Remembering Sita Laetsch: Carefree, bohemian and sunny, a pillar of her family and local volunteer

Sita Laetsch. Photo: Courtesy family

Sita P. (Capildeo) Laetsch, Nov. 14, 1936 – Jan. 10, 2019

Sita Priyadarshini (Capildeo) Laetsch was one of those rare personalities who would bring a room to attention as soon as she entered.

Forceful, dignified and stubborn, Sita was born in San Fernando, Trinidad and Tobago to Simbhoonath and Indradai (Ramoutar) Capildeo. Her father, Simbhoonath, (Elder God in “A House for Mr. Biswas” by his nephew, V.S. Naipaul) was a member of Parliament and known as ‘the Lion of the Legislature’ for his powerful orations. He was also a Hindu scholar, and a successful solicitor and businessman who was intimately involved in Trinidad’s independence from the British Empire.

Simbhoonath sent his only daughter and favorite child to high school at Saint Joseph’s Convent, Trinidad, and then to Miranda House at Delhi University, India to meet a Brahmin such as herself — someone of means and title. Instead, in 1956, she fell in love with a Scottish/Swiss German Yankee named Watson McMillan (‘Mac’) Laetsch who had little means and was a Fulbright Scholar researching plant embryology at Delhi University. Kissing for the first time during a moonlit night under a minaret of the Taj Mahal led to a romance and their eloping to Canada in 1958.

Sita and Mac moved to Stanford University where their first son, John, was born. In 1961 Mac took a faculty position at SUNY Stony Brook University, and they lived in Glen Cove, New York, where their son, Krishen, was born. They moved to Berkeley in 1963, as Mac became a professor and then senior administrator at Cal and where Sita lived until her death.

In addition to being the pillar of her extended family and a fabulous cook, Sita was a frequent volunteer at schools and hospitals and constantly entertained with extravagant teas and dinners to benefit UC Berkeley and other institutions and organizations. For many years, she was known for baking apple pies for Cal football announcers, as well as for hosting Bear Treks (Cal Discoveries Travel).

Fun, regal and eclectic, Sita traveled the world several times over and lived as full a life as anyone could hope for. She had a carefree, bohemian, sunny and playful personality, and yet she could, and often would, pierce armor with her eyes and words and hold lifetime grudges for the most insignificant slight.

Sita is survived by her husband of 61 years, Mac, sons John and Krishen, daughter-in-law Jenny and grandson Charlie.

In lieu of flowers, please make donations in memory of Sita, to: Chaparral House, 1309 Allston Way, Berkeley, CA 94702, or the UC Berkeley Re-entry Student Program; or mail a check to UC Berkeley Donor Services, 1995 University Ave., Ste 400, Berkeley, CA, 94704 — payable to UC Berkeley Foundation. Kindly include “in memory of Sita Laetsch” on the memo line.