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Raj R. Marphatia ’81, First Nonwhite Harvard Law Review President and ‘Incredibly Strong Leader,’ Dies at 60

By Zadoc I. N. Gee
By Callia A. Chuang, Crimson Staff Writer

When Debra K. Lussier switched into the asset management group at the law firm Ropes & Gray, she had to learn a completely new area of practice. So she turned to her colleague Raj R. Marphatia ’81 for help.

“It was really Raj who took me under his wing and mentored me and shared with me his experience and really allowed me to get the training that I needed in order to be an effective practitioner in the asset management group,” Lussier said. “I can’t tell you how many hours Raj took to really help me up that learning curve.”

Lussier — who is now a partner at Ropes & Gray — said she attributes her promotion to Marphatia’s support.

“He was a real champion of mine,” she said.

Marphatia — the first person of color to serve as president of the Harvard Law Review, a nationally recognized private funds lawyer, and a longtime partner at Ropes & Gray — died May 8 surrounded by family members at his home in Palo Alto, California, after battling cancer. He was 60 years old.

He is survived by his daughters, Maya M. Ambady and Leena A. Ambady ’20, and his partner, Carolyn Hayes.

Born in India, Marphatia immigrated to the United States as a high school student and graduated from Harvard College. He later attended Harvard Law School, where he made history as the first person of color to be elected president of the Harvard Law Review, serving in that position from 1987 to 1988.

Fellow partner at Ropes & Gray Larry J. Rowe said he believes this accomplishment resulted from Marphatia’s strong intellect and his impressive communication skills.

“Being president of the Harvard Law Review doesn’t go to, like, the smartest person. It goes to a person who’s really smart but also that the rest of the Law Review feel that they can turn to as their leader,” Rowe said.

Marphatia joined Ropes & Gray in 1989, where he worked for 30 years. He spearheaded the firm’s private investment funds practice and held various leadership roles, including co-leading the firm’s private investment funds group and its West Coast offices.

Fellow partner at Ropes & Gray Bryan Chegwidden attributed Marphatia’s success at the firm to his attentiveness and clear thinking.

“He was very methodical, thoughtful, analytical,” Chegwidden said. “It really made him an incredibly strong lawyer and an incredibly strong leader.”

Rowe added that Marphatia’s respectfulness and kindness enabled him to excel at maintaining good relationships with his clients and colleagues.

“While he certainly was happy to stick to his guns in any discussion — very, very, very much so — that only came after respectfully listening to opposing views, factoring them in, treating those who disagreed with them with respect,” Rowe said. “I think that’s one of the things that made him so well-liked in the firm but also what attracted clients to him.”

Marphatia’s colleagues said he formed strong friendships with members of the office through both legal work and social activities. When he worked at the Ropes & Gray Boston office, he hosted a weekly poker night at his house. He was also an enthusiastic member of the firm’s fantasy baseball Cardinal League and had won the league’s most recent championship, according to Rowe.

Outside of the office, Marphatia enjoyed playing golf. Lussier said she remembers he told many stories about the sport, often reporting how many balls he had lost each round.

“He was self deprecating and not wanting to brag about anything,” Lussier said. “He was just very special and very graceful.”

Rowe said in addition to Marphatia’s many legal accolades, his greatest legacy will be his thoughtfulness and compassion toward the people around him.

“It was an incredible success in that he was not only able to show sympathy but real empathy for other people,” Rowe said. “That’s what separated him from some of the other people in the world, and that’s what made him so not just well-respected, but well-loved at Ropes & Gray.”

—Staff writer Callia A. Chuang can be reached at callia.chuang@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter at @calliaachuang.

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