The Accountant and the Coroner
A Conversation on Duty, Tradition, Family and Service
Lakshmi Sammarco, M.D. and Sherri Richardson, CPA
Photography by Ali Wolfe
Sherri Richardson CPA and Lakshmi Kode Sammarco, M.D., are both successful professionals, but with very different backgrounds. Richardson, a CPA, grew up in Cincinnati in a large family living on the edge of poverty. Sammarco, the Hamilton County Coroner, is the daughter of immigrant parents from India, arriving in Cincinnati at age six.
Despite vastly different cultural experiences both found they have a commonality of values that inspired them to become leaders in their fields; each had a tight family unit, a good education and were surrounded by friends and family who inspired.
The two women sat down with Venue to talk about their roots and what inspired them to achieve in their professions and succeed as women of color.
Sammarco’s parents immigrated to America in the mid-‘70s, leaving their daughter with family in India until they were settled. Sammarco graduated from University of Cincinnati (UC) Medical School at age 24, the youngest in her class. She would go on to become a neuroradiologist. She skipped a grade in elementary school and credits the Indian education system for her head start in America.
Richardson credits her Catholic education for inspiring her early on; later she received a degree in accounting from UC and fulfilled her dream of starting her own firm, Richardson & Associates, in 2007.
Lakshmi Sammarco, M.D.: The Indian education system early on is very advanced. One of the things we don’t do well in the states is expect more from our young children. By the time I was 6, I had my multiplication tables memorized. I remember at age 4 and 5 reading and writing in three different languages. This is what was expected of the average kid in India. We had to memorize entire stories word for word and repeat them. I still remember them.
Sherri Richardson: I was raised in Mount Auburn, the oldest of 12 children. When you are female and the oldest, much is expected of you. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have a baby in my arms and another pulling on my arms. It was not easy and we walked a mile to get to Catholic school but the safety of my siblings was my duty. By the time I was seven, I was cooking and planning family activities.
Lakshmi Sammarco, M.D.: For a while I lived with my mom’s side of the family in a very rural area. We had no electricity or running water. I did my homework by kerosene lamp. We learned to write on blackboard slates. Paper was expensive. We saved every scrap … but when you are a kid, none of these things mattered.
Sherri Richardson: Not having material things didn’t negatively shape me. You are not necessarily poor if you don’t feel poor or inferior. Self-determination has to be part of your psyche. My parents helped develop that in my mind and that’s what’s important.
Lakshmi Sammarco, M.D.: I don’t feel like I missed out on anything. We had the benefit of this education. I was put on a plane when I was 6 from Bombay…and ended up in this little two-bedroom apartment in Clifton.
Sherri Richardson: In school were you consciously aware of yourself as a girl of color?
Lakshmi Sammarco, M.D.: I was always aware of being the Indian kid in the room. There were not too many of us brown kids. There was one other Indian family; we would walk to school together. It was hard. Then we moved to Milford. I don’t think they had seen any Indians in Milford before we got there. We went from an urban experience to very rural.
Sherri Richardson: I was aware of being a black female because I was the oldest sister and it was the 60s and 70s this is thrust upon you. But I always felt a sense of empowerment.
Sammarco was appointed coroner in 2012 after the sudden death of coroner Anant Bhati just days before the election. Sammarco won election in 2012, re-elected in 2016. Because of the tight-knit Indian community, Summarco knew Bhati, also an Indian immigrant, since she was a child. She said it was an honor for her to replace him even if it meant putting her neuroradiology career on hold to become coroner.
Lakshmi Sammarco, M.D.: Dr. Bhati used to lecture us when we were kids about how we had a duty to be involved. It’s important not just to succeed, to move your family forward, but it’s important to move the community forward, too. He felt we all had a responsibility to our own community to help lead and be heard. And my dad’s father, who worked for the British government, would lecture us that we should have a sense of responsibility and civic duty to serve. He would say, ‘When it’s your time to serve, you remember as my grandchildren, that it is your duty.’ ‘Duty’ is a very important word in the Indian tradition.
Richardson says she remembers the moment she “became an accountant.” It was when she was age 7, at work with her father, who was a partner in a restaurant. She overheard her father arguing.
Sherri Richardson: My father was not good with numbers. He had a limited education. At the age of 7 I heard him telling some men, ‘You guys are cheating me and I’m tired of it.’ When I asked why he was yelling at those men he said, ‘They are cheating me and I know it, but I can’t count. So you, little girl, will be an accountant and no one will ever cheat us again.’ That was my moment. In the middle of the ghetto a little girl says, ‘I’m going to be an accountant.’ Better than that, ‘I’m going to be a CPA.’ Being a girl, being black and getting a CPA didn’t always match. Few had been down that road before.
Lakshmi Sammarco, M.D.: People think women are so suppressed in India. But not really. It can depend on the caste system and the family you grow up in…but better than 50 percent of physicians are women. There are many women engineers. Women are still expected to take care of kids and house, not so for men. I think here it is a little more of a partnership. A little.
Richardson and Associates, LLC is located at 366 Ludlow Avenue, Cincinnati, OH 45220. For more information, call 513.772.8348 or visit www.richardsonandassociates.com.