He was an immigrant who came to this country years ago for the sake of his children's education, and on the night before Father's Day, he and his wife and their children and grandchildren were happily together in a Montgomery County restaurant.

But at some point Saturday night, Anant Singh, 71, got up from the bustling table in the Tandoori Nights restaurant and went outside, and his large, loving, admiring family never saw him alive again.

Sometime after he left the restaurant in Gaithersburg, he apparently was struck by a hit-and-run driver on Great Seneca Highway and left in a culvert. His body was not found until yesterday.

"He was a truly wonderful man," one of his three children said last night. "Very caring, very encouraging, very generous."

As of late last night, no arrest had been reported, Montgomery County police said.

At the time of his death, Singh, who had lived on Peppertree Lane in the Aspen Hill area of Silver Spring for the past 20 years, was still working as a chemist, according to one of his children.

His children -- two sons and a daughter -- had fulfilled the dreams that led the father to leave India's Punjab region in 1981. One son said he is a physician, and the other is a computer engineer. The third child, a daughter, has received a CPA.

They all live in the Washington area, according to the physician, who asked not to be named to maintain the family's privacy as much as possible.

It was a "huge family gathering" Saturday night, the son said, with 10 or 12 people, young children included, around a table. The son added, "We were kind of doing [a] Father's Day event very early because of our schedules."

"He was so happy the family was together," a family friend said. Then, amid the bustle, with plates arriving, the family patriarch got up.

One report said he was going to purchase a camera, but the son said family members "were not sure, really" where he was going. When he did not return, they began to worry and a full-fledged search began. Joined by police, who used a search dog, family members called out Singh's name. The effort to find him lasted until 2:30 a.m. yesterday.

The son said he took his mother home, but he returned early yesterday to the area, near the Kentlands Square Shopping Center. When he arrived, he said, he saw yellow police tape and a white bag used for the dead.

He wondered aloud last night what might have happened if whoever had struck his father had stopped instead of driving on.

"If somebody had taken the time to call at that point, this might not have been as tragic as it is," the son said. If someone had merely made a phone call, he said, "Who knows?"

Police asked that anyone with information about the incident contact the department's Crime Solvers at 800-673-2777.