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In Memoriam: Dr. Vartan Gregorian (1934-2021)

With profound regret, the Eastern Diocese mourns the passing of Dr. Vartan Gregorian, the late President of the Carnegie Corporation, who passed away on April 15. He was 87.

Educator, public servant, and intellectual leader, Dr. Gregorian was a man of immense influence in the American public sphere; a figure of national and international standing; a distinguished leader in his own right, but also a valued counselor to leaders and decision-makers in politics, the arts, education, international relations, and charitable giving.

Regarding his life story, there is little to add to the tributes that have appeared since the news of his passing became public, a few of which are linked below. He was born in Tabriz, Iran; journeyed to America in the 1950s to study at Stanford University; pursued a distinguished academic career, but changed course in the 1980s to become the head of the New York Library System. His dramatic success in that endeavor—in essence, transforming a neglected and moribund institution into a prosperous, optimistic, and even glamorous “star” of New York society—established the template for the achievements that awaited him in the latter decades of his life, as President of Brown University and (since 1997) the Carnegie Corporation.

From his humble origins, Dr. Gregorian went on to become the recipient of the most prestigious honors and awards bestowed by his adoptive country, including the National Humanities Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. But he considered himself, first and foremost, a teacher—a vocation he regarded with the highest respect, and in which he took great pride. The sense of excitement, of boundless possibility, he found in teaching was on display in a nationally televised interview Dr. Gregorian gave in 1988 (a clip of which is linked below), which captured the subtle textures of his thought, no less than his warm, vital spirit. In it, Vartan prophetically diagnosed concerns that our 21st-century institutions are only beginning to address.

His native talent, initiative, and ambition propelled Vartan throughout this life of achievement and recognition; but he was always eager to acknowledge the many acts of kindness he had received, no matter how small or large, which had made a difference in his life and broadened the scope of opportunities available to him. His self-effacing spirit of gratitude was one of the many humane personal qualities that would warm the heart of anyone who met Vartan Gregorian, or merely heard his remarkable story.

Dr. Gregorian held a special place in the hearts of his fellow Armenians across the world. And in Vartan’s own heart, his heritage—and the people who shared it—likewise held a special place. No matter where life led him, Vartan wore his Armenian ancestry as a badge of pride: as something that distinguished him among his peers, and linked him to a unique, ancient tradition of excellence. He was a great friend of the Armenian homeland and its globe-spanning institutions.

Chief among these was the Armenian Church, to which Dr. Gregorian felt a deep spiritual and intellectual connection. On the great holy days, and also in moments of private devotion, he could be seen at New York’s St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral, worshiping among the faithful. He took an active interest in the life of the Eastern Diocese, and was a friend and advisor to three Diocesan Primates. In his professional capacity he would frequently intercede on behalf of the church and other Armenian institutions, to open doors and advance Armenian concerns in American society.

For the Eastern Diocese’s Fund for Armenian Relief, Vartan Gregorian was a co-founder of the Armenian National Science and Education Fund (ANSEF), which promotes and funds scientific and scholarly research in Armenia. On the centennial of the Armenian Genocide in 2015, he co-founded the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative, and its Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity.

Vartan was pre-deceased by his beloved wife of almost 60 years, Clare Russell Gregorian, in 2018. He is survived by their sons Vahé, Raffi, and Dareh and their families, for whose consolation we pray. May our risen Lord bless the soul of his servant Vartan Gregorian, and remember him in the eternal kingdom.

By Christopher H. Zakian

Above: Dr. Gregorian was a featured speaker during an Armenian Genocide commemoration at New York’s Museum of the Jewish Heritage, in May 2015. Photo by Melanie Einzig.

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Click the following links to:

READ:

A Tribute from the Carnegie Corporation.
An Obituary in the New York Times.


WATCH:

A Video Clip from “A World of Ideas, with Bill Moyers” (PBS, 1988).

 

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