Innovator at work, Inspirational to friends and family, and Indian at heart. Champaklal Chunilal Shah, age 87, passed away peacefully on Tuesday, May 11th 2021, at Duke Hospital.
A service to celebrate his life will be held at 12:00 pm, Thursday, May 13, 2021 at L. Harold Poole Funeral Service Chapel, 944 Old Knight Road, Knightdale, NC 27545.
He was born on May 24th, 1934, in Ashtagam, Navsari in India. He was the eldest son of Chunilalal Bhagwanji Shah and Maniben Shah, a prestigious business and philanthropic family. He studied Chemical Engineering at Jai Hind College, Mumbai. Coming from a family of freedom fighters, he learned the value of determination, sacrifice, and passion early in life. Being fiercely independent, he sold cow’s milk and bought his ticket to the USA where he completed his BS in Chemical Engineering from the University of Louisiana. He returned to India to find his bride. His brother used to say, “He rejected 50 girls before he found his true and eternal love in Hema Shah”. It was love at first sight. Hema was the perfect companion and partner to support his dreams. They were a beautiful couple and teased as “Sangam,” based on a 1964 romance movie by Raj Kapoor.
He joined Turtle Wax, Chicago, Illinois as a Research and Product Developer. His teammates fondly called him ‘Champ’. There he invented Turtle Wax car polish (patent # US4113677A). Later, at Wesley Industries in Cleveland, he was promoted to Research Director and helped develop both Blue Poly Wax and Rain-X. Many products become things of the past, but Turtle Wax and Rain-X are still stocked in every retail shelf in America. His motto was “dress for the role you want,” evidenced by his many Brooks Brothers suits. Now they teach that in MBA school.
He and Hema raised four beautiful children, two daughters and two sons. He was a devoted father. He returned to his motherland in 1981 and was drawn to cultivating his family farmland. In the Navsari Agricultural College he was known as ‘That foreign returned engineer turned farmer.’ He led by example, lovingly nurturing his crops and instilling in his children the importance of hard work (though, in reality, those kids just jumped around in the water tanks, climbed trees, and ate lots of mangoes and chikoos). His favorite quote in Gujarati was: “Kaam karo to beauty vadhe, nahi to dooti vadhe” meaning beauty grows with hard work, otherwise only your belly grows. The secret to his good health and strong mind were yoga exercises and Ayurveda (many, many jadi buttis). He became the resident advisor on various mixtures of ayurvedic medicine pills for all sorts of ailments. He loved his long afternoon chats with friends and neighbors. He believed everyone is equal regardless of caste or financial status. His door was always open for everyone and anyone in need. Hema’s chai was a favorite for all who visited his house. As a couple, they made their home open to all their kids’ classmates and friends. His jovial personality ensured that he made friends wherever he went- from the neighborhood pharmacist, to the vegetable vendors, to a stranger at a shop. He silently and selflessly went the extra mile to help whoever he could and try to remove their difficulties. His children and grandchildren learned the value of service through his actions.
He was fond of listening to music especially golden oldies like K. L. Saigal, Mohammed Rafi, Bismillah Khan, and Kishore Kumar. His favorite actors were Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand. He and Hema would watch TV series and movies together, all while calling the new, not-as-good, Bollywood movies “kachro” (garbage). He was so dedicated to being abreast with the current news that he would read the newspaper as soon as it came and devour it word-by-word. No one had a chance of getting the paper before he had finished reading it. Evening meant his ‘News Time’ and no one could have the remote during that time. He was an encyclopedia. His ability to remember formulas or facts going back to the 60s was always amazing. His favorite sweets were ‘doodh pak’ and ‘seero’.
His children grew up and moved to the US. He and Hema moved there as well. Their family grew with grandchildren. Again, he took an active role in playing with the grandchildren and shaping them. He was their beloved Dada. He told them many funny stories about his youth. Sachi would play card games with him; if he won, he would get “Kem Dada!” (Why Dada!). She was his sweet Duliram penda, and also inherited his fierce personality. Niteya had long discussions on science and life with him. As a kid, he was his right-hand man. Sanya was the love of his eyes. She loved sitting right next to him, having long conversations and hearty laughs. They talked every evening, and even when she was in college he helped her with her Chemistry homework! Sanya was his pillar of strength. She was the one who stood by his side in the hospital taking care of him. He ate only when she ate and demanded they make her comfortable with a recliner, blanket, pillows, and of course, his favorite – Orange Juice! His favorite grandson was Shanay and he called him lion. Shanay used to chew on his keys. Dada loved watching Shanay perform martial arts for his belt test. Jinay was called Jeenubhai and Dev was called Dev babu. Every evening Jinay and Dev would sit with Dada while munching on blueberries and playing with their cars. They would jump all over his bed at night until he kicked them out… yet they’d still keep knocking on the door! All the kids flocked to his bedroom and loved sleeping in his room.
He is survived by his wife, Hemlataben Champak Shah; children: Janet & Mihir Shah, Ash & Satish Shah, Abhay & Niki Shah, Sujay & Priyanka Shah; grandchildren: Sachi, Niteya, Sanya, Shanay, Jinay, Dev; brothers: Amratbhai & Survanaben Shah, Chimanbhai & Mahendraben Shah; sister, Ilaben Choksi.
He was a spiritual man and a dreamer. Most of all, he was a family man. Until his last breath, he prayed on the navakar mantra and stutis. He stood strong and fearless in the face of death. He was independent, strong willed, and lived by his own rules and choices his entire life. It was his choice to go, right after his beloved wife Hema reached him in the hospital. He will be deeply missed by his family, friends and those touched by his enthusiasm and zest for life. He gave his family the priceless legacy of determination, courage, and perseverance.
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