BY GLEN CHARLTON
A spontaneous candlelight vigil was held last week for Anita Datar, 41, Takoma Park resident, AIDS-awareness worker, and mother of a 7-year-old.
Datar was the only American killed when gunmen seized the Radisson Blu Hotel in Mali, Friday, Nov. 20, as reported in The Washington Post.
Datar was in Mali for her employer Palladium, representing the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
The candlelight vigil was held at the gazebo Sunday, Nov. 23 in Takoma Old Town on Carroll Avenue. It was organized that day via word-of-mouth and email announcements sent to local discussion lists.
About 50 people, including several children, attended. They decorated a corner of the gazebo with a collection of flowers, candles, and a single handwritten note.
Heather and Joe Gleason. Photo by Bill Brown.
Heather Gleason, one of Datar’s neighbors, was there with her husband Joe. She said she has known Datar for around four years and their son is friends with Datar’s son Rohan. They are the same age.
She shared the last text message she received from Datar, sent just before her trip to Mali. It was a message full of personal support and encouragement that finished “Be kind to yourself, my friend. Be kind.”
Datar’s former husband, David Garten, was not able to attend the vigil, but did provide some words to the Takoma Park community.
“I am absolutely amazed and overwhelmed by the love and support that you have given to the Datar family and to me in supporting Rohan [Datar’s son],” Garten said.
“Anita was always filled with mixed emotions whenever she traveled because while she loved her work, she hated to leave Rohan.
“From the bottom of my heart, I want to express my deepest gratitude and appreciation to you all,” Garten said.
Mayor Kate Stewart spoke at the vigil and joined residents in singing, “This Little Light of Mine.”
“Its a tragic loss for our community and for the world,” Stewart said afterward.
Among those in attendance were Datar’s brother, Mayor Kate Stewart and Councilmembers Peter Kovar, Tim Male, and Rizzy Qureshi.
City Manager Suzanne Ludlow, Takoma Park Police Chief Alan Goldberg and deputy City Manager Jason Damweber were also at the vigil.
Maryland Sen.Jamie Raskin did not attend the vigil, but commented on the loss of Datar.
“Takoma Park, Maryland, the United States, and the world have lost a dynamic force for good in Anita Datar. Our community mourns her death at the hands of savage terrorist cowards, embraces her family and friends, and renews it commitment to the values Anita lived for,” Raskin said.
Datar was a founding board member of Tulalens, whose mission is connecting under-served communities to quality health services.
The Tulalens site has a remembrance and photo of Datar and a statement noting her part in creating the nonprofit organization. “In many ways, she is the mother of Tulalens. Anita believed deeply and unfailingly in our mission to help underserved women find quality healthcare, even when it was just an idea.”
Datar was a graduate of Rutgers College and received her bachelor’s in psychology in 1995.
She later completed a joint MPH/MPA program at Columbia University in 2002.
Before joining her most recent employer, Palladium, in 2004, Datar was involved in a Peace Corps placement in Senegal and worked at the RAND Corporation.
An article, On the Death of Takoma Park’s Anita Datar in Mali, by her neighbor Dave Zirin was published in The Nation, Nov. 21.
Editor on this story: Bill Brown