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Vartabedian: My Final Column

After a courageous battle with liver cancer, longtime Armenian Weekly columnist Tom Vartabedian passed away last night.

Tom Vartabedian (Photo: WSJ)

Vartabedian’s name is no stranger to the pages of the Armenian Weekly—he has volunteered his services as a columnist and correspondent with the paper for nearly a half century. His countless articles have appeared in several Armenian and non-Armenian publications over the years, covering everything from community events and initiatives, to interesting individuals and their stories from both Armenia and the Armenian Diaspora. For decades, readers looked forward to his weekly “Poor Tom’s Almanac” column, which has been published for 46 consecutive years, since 1970.

The Armenian Weekly will highlight Vartabedian’s work and legacy in the coming weeks.

Below is Vartabedian’s final column, which he wrote on Oct. 12.

***

The End to an Indelible Career

As the dog said when he bit his tail, “This must be the end.”

After 50 years as a writer and photographer for The Gazette, my career as a roving journalist has come to a staggering halt. In the interim, I’ve had the luxury of covering every beat possible.

My Almanac started in 1970 as a way of perhaps introducing some levity into the serious and often stoic world of journalism. Hopefully, I’ve made some small impact into your lives and perhaps an elusive smile here and there.

It was not my choice to concede but one made for me through my battle with terminal cancer.  The future remained imminent, after being diagnosed eight months ago.  Trust me, I gave it a good shot, hoping to turn despair into some semblance of encouragement.

My final week was spent in Nova Scotia with dear friends—a trip that was postponed once—and finally came to fruition.  I shall take the good times with me to my final resting place, leaving the photos behind for others to enjoy.

The symptoms were insurmountable.

My appetite abandoned me almost entirely.  Much as I tried, the sight of food made me nauseous. While others were dining on salmon and steak, the best I could do was a cracker and maybe some ice cream.

My condition weakened by the moment until finally I was counting the days to return home. It takes a good front not to alarm those around you. The last thing I would have ever wanted in a group of 50 tourists was a pity party.

Some pain and discomfort built up gradually to the point where my physical energy took an extreme hit. I was content just staying in my room with a good book but played the game. Hopefully, I left behind no telltale signs of remorse among my peers.

I have often been told by others that my career as a journalist and photographer became stagnated and stale.  How untrue! Why would anybody spend a half century with one job, one paper?

My response to that comment would be, “Why not?” If you really love your work and your environment, why change? Working in the city where I have lived was a true complement.  I was always there for my children and wife.  Her job as a local schoolteacher ran parallel to mine.

Never a traffic jam. Not even a school bus.  There’s something to be said for proximity. Even more to be said for building up a rapport with a loyal readership.  I always considered Haverhill as my own personal Cheers bar. The stories simply manifested themselves on all fronts.

My association with the Armenian community here has been undeniable. Every stranger became a friend in waiting.

The wonderful years with The Gazette were also complemented by a similar passion with The Armenian Weekly and writers like William Saroyan who became my source of inspiration.  I had the best of both worlds in the American and Armenian genre.

Over the last 20 years, my stories and photos made the rounds throughout other ethnic publications in the world which brought me added pleasure. My friends and associates throughout the medium stood right by me throughout these moments of turmoil. It’s the best lifeline any cancer victim can embrace.

As I get ready to take my final bow, I can only hope that God gives me just a little more time to welcome forth a photography exhibit I have opening Oct. 23 at the Armenian Museum of America in Watertown.  I’ll be collaborating with another photographer named Sona (Dulgarian) Gevorkian who is truly an impeccable artist with her camera.

Our work together will reflect images of Armenia both from the Eastern and Western extremes.

The final copies of a book, “The Armenians of Merrimack Valley,” co-authored with Haverhill High’s Phil Brown, will be inscribed for charity at a dinner-dance Oct. 22 by the Armenian Friends of America.

And finally, I opted to repeat the classes on obituary-writing at our Haverhill Citizens Center the first three Mondays in November beginning at 1 pm.  It’s open to the public. In the event I’m still breathing, I will have fulfilled what I consider to be a long and productive life to which there have been few if any regrets.

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing a daughter inculcate a career as an editor and journalist, along with two Eagle Scout sons who have made their mark in mechanical engineering and marketing. That would not have been possible without the education they all received in our local public schools.

If I can leave you with anything, please do not take our community for granted and get the most out of it.  What you do for yourself invariably dies with you.  What you do for others lives on and forms legacies.

When troubles get you down, find your faith and give it a chance. It’ll be there waiting for you.

 

42 Comments on Vartabedian: My Final Column

  1. avatar Charles J. Janigian // November 13, 2016 at 2:19 pm // Reply

    Tom,
    You will be missed, but never forgotten. To all Hyes, wherever you may be, never forget his contribution to all of us.
    May God grant you a safe journey to your final resting place.
    With love,
    Charles J. Janigian

  2. Tom, long an inspiration to me and other writers, will be hugely missed. With a knack of capturing the essence of individuals and their stories, his written works will remain as a Bible for those who believe … in connections, kind words and love.

  3. What a heartwarming and heartbreaking last column; uplifting in spirit but sad for the loss of this eloquent man. I’m grateful to have happened upon his message today. My deepest sympathy to his family and friends.

  4. To my old AYF friend and fellow journalist you have accomplished what some only dream about. We will miss your columns and goodwill to the cause. If you think God will let you just rest, forget it. You’ll be put to work for the Armenian church and nation with Jimmy Tashjian and other Hye icons and ungers. Farewell but never forgotten—mitch

  5. As only Tom could have written. He was one of the best Armenians I have had the pleasure of knowing. He made us all feel and do better. I will miss his constant encouragement and genuine congeniality. Asdvadz hokin lusavoreh.

  6. Tom, you are going be missed by so many. Rest in peace.

  7. A brave warrior rests. God grant unto His servant eternal rest and let perpetual light shine upon him.

  8. avatar Catherine Yesayan // November 13, 2016 at 3:07 pm // Reply

    I have goosebumps all over…

  9. avatar Avedis Alashaian // November 13, 2016 at 3:58 pm // Reply

    I met Tom when I was on governing body of the AYF.I ne ver met a man more dedicated to the youth of the
    organization than Tom. He would be at all the athletic events all day & evening, & cover the dances &
    award ceremony Sunday evening. I missed Tom the last two Olympics, Mark Gavoor filled in for Tom. Mark
    did a fantastic job, but it was not Tom. My condolences to his wife Nancy.
    Rest in peace my friend…you will be missed.
    Avo Alashaian

  10. avatar Yeretsgin Cheryl Baljian // November 13, 2016 at 5:12 pm // Reply

    So long fine friend and Armenian. You gave of yourself and accomplished much. Your words made us think, hope, and be motivated to do better. Sorry you had to bear this illness. We will think of you fondly and pray for your family. Be at peace with Him.

  11. avatar Zarmine Boghosian // November 13, 2016 at 5:26 pm // Reply

    What a loss!! Best legacy THAT HE LEFT for us….
    “What you do for yourself invariably dies with you. What you do for others lives on and forms legacies.
    “When troubles get you down, find your faith and give it a chance. It’ll be there waiting for you.”

  12. avatar Deborah Boyajian // November 13, 2016 at 5:52 pm // Reply

    I was unfamiliar with Mr. Vartabedian–until now. I am very moved by his writing, in particular, his final words. I love his heartfelt sentiments about community and the values we can find within our communities and our neighbors. My grandmother was born in Haverhill. I have a beautiful photograph–(probably hand colored) of her standing in the back yard of her home. She died so very young, just 68 years old, in 1978. Her name was Mary Victoria Ohanessian (known as Vicky). After she died, I remember going to Haverhill and taking a picture in front of the Haverhill Women’s Club.
    I’m very sorry for the loss of Mr. Vartabedian. I grew up in Watertown, and am very familiar with Ruth Thomassian’s Armenian Museum, so I will go see the exhibit.

  13. avatar Roxanne Makasdjian // November 13, 2016 at 5:53 pm // Reply

    Along with so many other readers, community members and compatriots, I’ll miss you, Tom. As one of your longtime regular readers from the left coast, your column provided a window into an Armenian-American experience we’re removed from out west. Your everyday insights were always so genuine and warm, and your dedication to your craft and to your community was clear, pure, and inspiring. Thank you so much for the decades of pleasure and continuous community service you generously delivered. “Asdvadz hokit lousavoreh.”

  14. avatar Charles R Kochakian // November 13, 2016 at 6:04 pm // Reply

    My Dear friend Tom – what a great guy!
    He touch us all with his pen and many accomplishments, so much so that he will be remembered for decades to come. What always impressed me about Tom was his sincere dedication to family,friends community and nation. He will always be remembered for his commitment to the Armenian Cause and dedication to his church and life-long profession as a writer and journalist. Many glowing words will be forthcoming during this coming week but as we bid him God’s speed to hi His loving arms, for me I can only say it has been an honor to have been his friend these many years.

  15. avatar Mike Mirakian // November 13, 2016 at 6:51 pm // Reply

    No! Please God say it isn’t so! In spite of his numerous attempts to prepare us for the inevitable, I chose to ignore his declarations hoping and praying for some kind of miracle. As with all endeared people who leave us, I’m left with a void left in my heart. I’ve known him for about 65 years having first met him as a counselor at Camp Haiastan when I was a camper. Throughout the years he was omnipresent at all AYF Olympics and just about every Armenian community event. He always left me with a smile on my face as well as countless others with his quick wit, folksy charm, photographic proficiency and of course his insightful writing about everyday matters both universal and Armenian. I miss him already and I am dropping several a tear as I try to write this tribute to him. Until we meet again my dear friend —Asdvadz hokeed losavoreh!

  16. avatar Betty Tutelian DaSilva // November 13, 2016 at 7:29 pm // Reply

    The 1970’s my family waited for the Weekly to come in the mail. Poor Tom’s Almanac was the first (and sometimes the only) thing I read. He covered every Olymnpics and AYF event with enthusiasm; he knew most of us by name. Tom will surely be missed by the Armenian community; sincere condolences to his family and dear friends.

  17. avatar Gary Kurkdjian // November 13, 2016 at 7:55 pm // Reply

    May God bless his soul and may he rest in peace.

  18. Beautifully said Mr.Vartabedian as usual. You will be missed on so many levels.
    rip

  19. avatar Margaret Lafian // November 13, 2016 at 9:01 pm // Reply

    i am weeping with the news of the death of columnist Tom Vartabedian. I read the Armenian Weekly especially because of his columns and Betty Apigian Kessell. What a sad loss to all of us. My heartfelt condolences to his loving family and his extended Armenian/American families worldwide. He is irreplaceable……With sorrow….

  20. avatar Barbara Tutelian // November 13, 2016 at 9:11 pm // Reply

    It was a pleasure to know this wonderful man. He was an artist in every way with his eye and pen.

  21. avatar mary andonian // November 13, 2016 at 9:17 pm // Reply

    Rest in peace dear Tom, a fighter and brave man.????

  22. avatar Margaret Lafian // November 13, 2016 at 9:39 pm // Reply

    Hearts are saddened with news of passing Columnist Tom Vartabedian. Heartfelt condolences to his loving family and his extended Armenian/American families worldwide. He is irreplaceable……….With sorrow

  23. avatar Bedros Zerdelian // November 13, 2016 at 9:46 pm // Reply

    Our heartfelt condolences for loosing the friendly and humorist journalist Tom with his deep and interesting articles. God bless and illuminate his kind soul. Amen.

  24. What Vartabedian wrote,
    “What you do for yourself invariably dies with you. What you do for others lives on and forms legacies.”
    And I write…”Great writers they never sigh” and he was one of them.

  25. avatar sosi kaprielian // November 13, 2016 at 10:41 pm // Reply

    oh my gosh his words are written in gold and so true
    what a beautiful man. REMINDS us all each day is a gift. Live it to the fullest

  26. R.I.P. Poor us that you are gone. God bless your soul.

  27. avatar Vicken Sonentz Papazian // November 13, 2016 at 11:49 pm // Reply

    Rest in peace Tom. Your grace and eloquence, and your commitment to the community you so nobly loved and served will be missed.

  28. May MR. Vartabedian rest in Peace.

  29. I will miss his column.
    “If I can leave you with anything, please do not take our community for granted and get the most out of it. What you do for yourself invariably dies with you. What you do for others lives on and forms legacies.”
    This statement truly describes the kind of person he was.

  30. avatar Armen K. Boyajian // November 14, 2016 at 9:57 am // Reply

    I have known Tom Vartabedian for his entire Hairenik-Armenian Weekly lifetime. He could have known me longer because of our shared love for the Armenian Community deeply committed to the Armenian Youth Federation and Armenian Revolutionary Federation. He was a fountain of happiness, joyful and every ready to tackle his assignment in the Armenian Community. His wife was a true trooper. She was there all the time. She carried his camera gear. She raised the children. She was every present with Tom, night and day at the AYF Olympic games.
    Mary and I express our sympathies to the wife, mother and their children for this precious loss.
    Armen K. Boyajian November 14, 2016

  31. avatar armenag manoukian // November 14, 2016 at 2:24 pm // Reply

    back in 2003 i was in Armenia wherev i met Tom ande two of his traveling buddies. They told me if i would like to get up in the morning and go for a morming walk in Yerevan.i knew of Mr. Vartabedian but had not the pleasure of meeting him.We walked and talked mainly about our thoughts on the home land,found he was quite comical when he noticed that the dogs in Armenia were not awakeat six o’clock in the morn.we just talked and spoke about people we knew,me being from Canada,he would ask howb some of his friends were doing back in Canada.i could write about that day forever.rergardless i’m saddened to hear about his passing ,if there is a heaven surely he must be telling all those interesting stories.may God enlighten your soul Mr.Tom Vartabedian.

    • avatar Armenouhi Hacobian // November 14, 2016 at 7:36 pm //

      Uncle Armen, I remember you telling me that story …in fact it all seemed too familiar as I read your post – only to realize it was YOU afterall. I enjoyed reading Tom’s column over the years, but didn’t have the pleasure of getting to know him personally. Thank you for sharing your memory. Though his shoes are gigantic, for the sake of our community and his legacy may they be filled some day.

  32. My sincerest condolences to Mr. Vartabedian’s entire family. I knew Tom for a while, and was featured in his latest book. This tragic loss comes as a huge surprise to me; I know that he touched hearts and minds all over the Armenian community and beyond. His loss will truly be felt, especially in our beloved Merrimack Valley. Rest in Peace Mr. Tom Vartabedian. You will never be forgotten

  33. avatar Garen Yegparian // November 14, 2016 at 5:09 pm // Reply

    With moistened eyes I write “goodbye, Tom” and thanks for the encouragement you gave me in our occasional e-mail conversations.

  34. avatar Lois (wilson) Ringland // November 14, 2016 at 7:57 pm // Reply

    Tom!! wish I had kept in touch with you some how You were always good to the Amesbury Playhouse and to me when I did a play there but most of all 2 other things We went to school together and did not see each other for year and you appeared and the wonderful wedding picture you took of my Daughters wedding I will miss you But one day we shall meet again Thank you for all you did for New and pictures HUGS

  35. What an amazing, altruistic, courageous, wise, and impacting man Tom Vartabedian was. I met him in 2005; he came to my house to interview me for a beautiful story in the paper. At that time, I was a new immigrant in the U.S. and was impressed at how comfortable I felt during the interview with him. We were talking like two old friends. Tom was open minded, down to earth, trustworthy, and respectable of immmigrants. He called to congratulate me everytime I was published in the Haverhill Gazette. He wrote me beautiful recommendations for scholarships and he featured me in the Haverhill Gazzette again… Thinking of my life as new immigrant of this country, it’s amazing how much Tom Vartabedian supported and impacted me.
    It was his legacy to me; a newcomer to this country whose life was touched by a great man and thoughtful friend of the community.

  36. Tom,

    Your loss is a great one to the Armenian community of New England, and I can only imagine to the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, that read your columns and articles; this includes your non-Armenian friends and readers in the Haverhill Gazette.

    I wish I had a better chance to get to know you a little more. You were a gentleman and a thoughtful, intelligent man who brought consideration and deliberation to all who knew you.

    May the winds be fair and the skies choice as you go forth to your greatest of interviews.

  37. avatar Vicken Sonentz Papazian // November 16, 2016 at 4:27 pm // Reply

    “The best portion of a good man’s life: his little, nameless unremembered acts of kindness and love.” ― William Wordsworth. Describes Tom Vartabedian to a tee.

  38. avatar Aram & Violet Gavoor // November 16, 2016 at 8:31 pm // Reply

    Farewell Tom, til we meet again. You will be remembered by all whose lives you touched through your writings in the Armenian Weekly for over 50years. You lived your life as a model Armenian and American citizen, community and church activist, admired by all facets of your life, ESPECIALLY, your Armenian brethren. Thanks. We appreciate your dedication. Asdvadz hoket loussvoreh.

    Aram & Violet Gavoor

  39. avatar Heidi Hannenian Nelson // November 16, 2016 at 11:40 pm // Reply

    Rest in Peace Tom Vartabedian, you were such a special part of my childhood growing up in Haverhill.

  40. avatar Harry Derderian // November 22, 2016 at 2:34 pm // Reply

    We all live in Little Armenias where we have what we call volunteers and activists.
    Tom was more than that–he was a Patriot—-moreso, a Spirit.
    No one we know has done more, for so long. His definition of Armenian Cause/Hai Tahd was all things Armenian, community wide without organizational lines.
    He saw things that were good and made them better; he saw things not so good and made them good. Never a harsh word, never a negative…if a man was to have a son, he would want that son to be like Tommy V.
    He was the AYF’s number one cheerleader and our AYF generation’s number one spirit.
    Tom always had a twinkle in his eye and warm words for all; his extended family of so many will feel sadness–and loneliness.
    The son of Somerville became the Patriot from Haverhill, in a Little Armenia called Merrimack Valley.
    Through the coming years, the proud son of Somerville will remain the ubiquitous Armenian–a Patriot without Peer.
    Our deep respect and sympathy to Nancy and the family.

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