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Concy Rajkumar, who left unrest in Sri Lanka and founded Montessori school, dies at 77

15December 2021

Concy Rajkumar was a lifelong educator who led her family out of Sri Lanka to the United States.

Rajkumar was 27 when she and her husband, Raj, left Sri Lanka, then embroiled in post-colonial civil unrest, for a teaching opportunity in the Twin Cities. Within a few years, Rajkumar founded her own school, Concy’s Montessori, where she would launch the educations of thousands of young learners over four decades. She became a U.S. citizen in 1980.

Rajkumar died unexpectedly on Nov. 12 at age 77.

Brandon Royce-Diop, who had been a preschooler at Concy’s Montessori, remembers Rajkumar as an energetic teacher, “extremely caring and fair.”

She became like a second grandmother to Royce-Diop, who grew up eating her Sri Lankan recipes and working in her yard for extra money. He now helps teachers start antiracist Montessori schools through the Wildflower Foundation. Throughout his life and teaching career, Royce-Diop said he has tried to emulate Rajkumar.

“It was her way of being, speaking truth at all times and challenging people to do the same, to continue moving forward and never settle,” he said.

Rajkumar was a vivacious personality who loved hosting big gatherings over home cooking. She was an ardent believer in healthy foods and natural healing when possible, holistic physical and mental self-care. A devout Catholic, she prayed often.

When her husband died of cancer in 1982, Rajkumar assumed the sole responsibility for running the school, driving daughter Roshini and son Roshan to games and encouraging them to excel academically. Both ultimately graduated from law school. Roshini Rajkumar is a former WCCO Radio host.

Rajkumar married John Knoll in 1992. They traveled the world and enjoyed the outdoors on their tandem bike rides along the North Shore.

Knoll died in 2018.

“We watched her become a widow twice, and that was hard,” Roshini Rajkumar said. “But even though she had those major losses, there was still a lot of joy in her life because of how she lived it.”

COVID-19 followed close behind. Rajkumar’s circle shrank with social distancing, but an unexpected blessing came when grandson Remington’s day care closed, giving her a chance to reprise Concy’s Montessori School one last time. For four hours a day Monday through Friday, they’d work on shapes and colors, eating, touching and speaking in Tamil.

“They had a relationship like no other. He respected her and loved her, and she would let him get away with stuff because she would be giving him back to me,” Roshan Rajkumar said.

When day care reopened, Rajkumar requested pictures of Remi throughout the day, and if she didn’t get them, she’d think something was wrong, he said. Whenever Remi got sick, she’d make a special trip to Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Edina to pray.

“She loved him above all other things,” Roshan said. “I think her greatest regret dying was that unfortunately she doesn’t get to be there for everything in person. But she’s watching over him now.”

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