Kotiya Scholarship Honors a Life Full of Love and Friendship
The new endowment will provide need-based scholarships for students pursuing an undergraduate degree in the Poole College of Management.
By Lea Hart
At the celebration of life for Rupesh Kotiya (’98) this spring, family and friends filled the room to speak about his passion for life, his love and devotion to those he cared about, and the connection he could make with people he met even once. Fellow NC State alum Kristi Butler joined a group of former classmates and friends at the service as she summed up the legacy of the friend they called “Rup.”
Rup’s gift, his legacy, what made Rup, Rup, was his ability to give us all this kind of love.
“Rup’s gift, his legacy, what made Rup, Rup, was his ability to give us all this kind of love,” Butler said, fighting tears. “Although we all have individual memories and stories, among our many bonds and our everlasting bond is that Rup loved all of us – an unconditional, unwavering, will always be by our side, love.”
Months after he passed, Rupesh’s wife, Siobhan Pandya, still receives calls and texts that echo that sentiment.
“He was very much the life of the party, very positive, always smiling,” she said. “He loved to be with people and to bring people together.”
He loved to be with people and to bring people together.
Doctors diagnosed Rupesh with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, in 2014. ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, according to the ALS Foundation. Over time, patients with ALS lose the ability to speak, eat, move and breathe.
His two boys, Ronan and Keaton, were just shy of 4 and 2 years old at the time of his diagnosis. He passed away in March 2023.
A Legacy for the Wolfpack
Rupesh was born in Bristol, Pennsylvania, but spent most of his formative years growing up in Cary, North Carolina.
Siobhan said Rupesh enrolled in NC State’s Poole College of Management and became somewhat of an “obsessive NC State fan.” He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business management.
“He had such a connection with the school,” she said. “He made sure he represented them whenever he could.”
Over the years, Rupesh made “so many close friends, like family,” but the one group he seemed to hold on to most tightly was his NC State friends and their partners.
“We have so many stories with them,” Siobhan said. “Of all the parts of his life, the part that grounded him the most and he connected with the most was his NC State family.
Of all the parts of his life, the part that grounded him the most and he connected with the most was his NC State family.
“He believed if you’re at this school, then you are with this school — and that continued to the day he passed.”
Rupesh shared that love for NC State with his sons. After being diagnosed with ALS, he decided to get a series of tattoos — thinking of them as something he’d carry on with him to “wherever he went next,” Siobhan said. The first included the NC State logo and an accompanying image of his two boys’ hands doing the wolves up sign with their hands.
So it was only fitting as Rupesh and Siobhan discussed his final wishes that Rupesh decided he wanted to do something to show his love for NC State and Poole College.
He believed if you’re at this school, then you are with this school — and that continued to the day he passed.
The couple made meticulous plans for everything that would come after he was gone. Letters and gifts exist for his boys at important milestones in their lives. The couple planned for what would happen with his ashes and for his celebration of life. He made sure his caregivers were taken care of, and he donated his organs to help others.
For a while, he could type to communicate. As that declined, the couple developed a system where he would communicate letters by blinking and Siobhan would write down his wishes.
“We were one person in the end — the connection and the bond,” she said. “I knew in his heart of hearts what was important to him.”
In that process, Rupesh asked Siobhan simply to find a way to honor his love for NC State and Poole College, and she knew the best way to do that was to support the students that will come after him.
The Rupesh J. Kotiya Scholarship Endowment will provide need-based scholarships for students pursuing an undergraduate degree in the Poole College of Management.
Rup believed you could do anything you wanted to — that idea that you get one life to live, make the best of it, and don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do something.
The couple both grew up in families that believed education is the key to the future. Siobhan said she hopes the scholarship helps students who may not otherwise be able to afford it, to pursue their dreams of a college degree.
“Rup believed you could do anything you wanted to — that idea that you get one life to live, make the best of it, and don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do something,” she said. “I think that’s what he would want out of the scholarship.”
A Life Lived to the Fullest
After graduating from NC State, Rupesh went to work in New York City for Mainstay Investments. He took full advantage of city life.
“It would be hard to catch Rup at home,” Siobhan said. “I don’t think he had some vision that his life would be shorter, but he still wanted to take in every moment.”
The couple’s families had lived on the same street in India. Rupesh and Siobhan first met up for a drink in New York while Siobhan was traveling there. They stayed in touch, and that turned into dating, which turned into marriage in 2007. A job promotion for Rupesh took the couple to Dallas, and that’s where they remained.
They became pregnant with their first child, Cailen, in 2008, but a rare umbilical cord complication took him from the couple when he was just 5 days old in 2009. Cailen appears in Rupesh’s tattoo as well, his name in a cloud above the others.
Siobhan remembers having Rupesh by her side as she went in for an emergency C-section and in the days that followed. He was unwavering in his love and support, she said.
“I knew that this was the person I wanted to have by my side — his unconditional love and support,” Siobhan recalled. “We weren’t sure how long we’d have with Cailen, but we knew we would be his parents together.”
Rup was always about helping people. If you needed something in the middle of the night, you could call Rup.
Ronan and Keaton came along in 2010 and 2012, respectively, and, though they were very young when Rupesh was diagnosed with ALS, Siobhan said they were his right and left arms during his entire battle.
“As the disease progressed, they just knew, ‘Our dad took care of us, and now we take care of our dad,’” she said. “They would help with everything.”
At the same time, they would still go to Rupesh for advice, and he would do all of the things a typical, devoted dad would do.
“That’s part of why he fought so long, to make sure they were in a place where they were going to be OK,” Siobhan said.
And clearly, it wasn’t just his family that he loved and supported.
“Rup was always about helping people,” Siobhan said. “If you needed something in the middle of the night, you could call Rup.”
When the couple moved to Dallas, he was often asking her to go out and meet up with people. It’s something Siobhan is grateful for, as it created an extensive support group when he was battling ALS.
‘The Greatest Gift of All Time’
After the initial shock of Rupesh’s diagnosis, what the couple did next probably wouldn’t surprise their friends and family. They chose to fight.
“We said, ‘We are going to do everything possible — traditional medicine, alternative medicine,’” Siobhan said. “Even if it doesn’t work, we have the peace of mind that we gave it everything we could.”
And Rupesh decided to live life to the fullest. Two weeks before he passed, he was at the Super Bowl because he’d never been, Siobhan said. He used a wheelchair, he had a ventilator and a feeding tube, he had a caregiver that needed to travel with them — the challenges were evident.
We said, we are going to do everything possible — traditional medicine, alternative medicine. Even if it doesn’t work, we have the peace of mind that we gave it everything we could.
“People questioned all the logistics,” Siobhan said. “He and I were on the same page — if this is what he wanted, I would find a way.
“He watched from the pre-game party up until the trophy was given — he was so happy.”
Three days before he went into the hospital for the last time, the family attended an NBA basketball game, the Dallas Mavericks versus the Los Angeles Lakers. Rupesh was a huge Lakers fan, Siobhan said. So they didn’t just go to the game — Rupesh went downstairs after the game to see if they could meet any players coming out of the locker room. He saw many of the Mavericks players — and then he met Lakers star LeBron James.
“The smile on Rup’s face said it all,” Siobhan said.
Perhaps most importantly, he remained that same engaged father.
“We were blessed that Rup was a fighter and he fought to the very end,” she said.
Not long after he passed, Siobhan took the boys overseas for a month. Returning to the empty house was difficult.
“I want him back; I just miss him so much because there is so much to miss,” she said not long after they returned home.
If you were his friend or his family, he would put his life down for you. He would do anything to help and support you.
For those who didn’t cross his path, she hopes people can know just how big his heart was.
“If you were his friend or his family, he would put his life down for you,” Siobhan said. “He would do anything to help and support you.
“For us, he was the greatest gift of all time.”
For us, he was the greatest gift of all time.
Make a gift to the Rupesh J. Kotiya Scholarship Endowment
Support Rupesh’s favorite ALS nonprofit organization, Team Gleason