When Alok “Pinku” Sharma’s family moved to Raleigh in the 1970s, only a handful of other Indian families lived in the area. Sharma watched his parents rally acquaintances into a community and to form the Hindu Society of North Carolina, a temple located in Morrisville.
Now, some 30 percent of Morrisville’s 25,000 residents are Indian and about 100,000 live in the Triangle. Sharma, inspired by his family, continued throughout his life to support his Indian community while fostering efforts to deepen their American roots.
Considered a visionary by friends and officials, Sharma enthusiastically shared his culture by helping organize events like the celebration of India’s independence from Great Britain, while seeking ways the Hindu community could give back with events such as health fairs. He did so with his signature optimism.
“Alok truly went out of his way to make the connection between elected officials and the Indian community. He (worked) to make the Indian community part of the local scene, part of local government, part of local businesses, and a real community partner in every sense of the word,” said Morrisville Mayor Mark Stohlman.
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Sharma, 50, died unexpectedly last month during a business trip to Mexico City. Upon his death, the likes of former Gov. Jim Hunt and N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper sent their condolences.
“Many people love their friends and family, but I've met very few people who deeply care about their community and their country like Alok did,” said longtime friend Deepak Advani. “This is why so many people are saddened by their loss, and why you couldn't find a parking spot at the community center for his (memorial) service.”
Sharma’s work as vice president of sales for internationally based Thales e-Security required frequent travel. With the youngest of his two children about to graduate from high school, he and his wife of 29 years, Subhashini Sharma, were looking forward to finally traveling the world together.
Sharma’s family moved to the United States on July 4, 1972. The youngest of five children, he was inspired by the work his father did as a United Nations worker. As a family, the Sharmas promoted inclusion and community.
When choosing a college, Sharma consciously decided to stay local and remain close to his parents. Family was precious, and this summer he tasked his children with creating a family tree to share with their cousins.
Sharma never missed an opportunity to make connections between his Hindu community and the community at large.
“He did a lot of what I would call connecting the dots,” his wife said. “He often said, ‘If you talk and you let people know what your goal is, you can enlist people to help you. He was all about that.’”
One of his goals was for local Hindu youth to have better opportunities to learn about their faith and heritage. Sharma played a tremendous role in the creation of the Hindu Society of North Carolina Learning Center. He also spent countless hours reading every application for the Sharma Scholarship Fund, leading efforts to increase the endowment to nearly twenty times its original amount.
He was also proud to participate on the Imagine Cary board, helping build a vision of the next 40 years for the town he’d called home since he was a newlywed.
“As an elected official, there are times when you walk in a room and see someone that you try to avoid. Alok was actually the opposite,” said Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht. “I loved talking with him and actually sought him out. He was an honest, straightforward man who could help you get the pulse of any situation.”
The only thing he bragged about was his family.
“He took very little credit for everything he did. That was beautiful about him,” Subhashini Sharma said, unable to hold back the tears. “He just always gave me the credit for how our kids turned out, but in reality it was definitely a team effort, and he never took credit for it. He was so humble, so humble.”
Friends remember a man with boundless enthusiasm and a positive spirit that was hard to match.
Ishan Sehgal, an old friend and golfing buddy, said Sharma brought much more than a solid short game to the green.
“Our foursome will remember this. On the first tee box, one of his frequent refrains was ‘I am on vacation.’ It was an example and reminder of how he cherished the present and wanted to make sure we were all having a good time,” Sehgal said.
When Sharma’s son, Rishi Sharma, graduated from Green Hope High School this month, he spoke about the influence his father had on him by encouraging him to achieve, participate and engage, as had his older sister, Priya Sharma, a former student body president. Rishi Sharma also became student body president, will study in the honors program at UNC-Chapel Hill and plans to become a pediatrician.
“While I miss his physical presence, I miss his energy even more,” his friend Advani said. “I know his soul is in a better place, and he's already planning his next adventure.”
Alok “Pinku” Sharma
Born: Feb. 13, 1965, in Ajmer, India.
Family: Married Subhashini Sharma in 1985. They have two children: daughter Priya and son Rishi.
Education: Graduates N.C. State University, 1987, with bachelor’s in computer science.
Career: Worked in software design and software sales. Joined Thales e-Security in 2004 as vice president of sales for the Americas in 2004.
Community: Trustee and former president of the Hindu Society of North Carolina; served on the Imagine Cary board; president of the N.C. Indian-American Political Action Committee and International Festival of Raleigh.
Dies: May 29.