Every community needs a Jack Papazian—someone to shepherd the youth, motivate the adults, collaborate with legislators, keep the church front vital, and spread the good name of Armenia at every interval.
That was Jack Papazian, a man who served as Philadelphia’s catalyst, role model, do-gooder, pillar, and man for all seasons rolled into one.
His death May 19 had far-reaching effects across the land and sent a jolt into this city of brotherly love, for Jack was to Philly what Ben Franklin, Valley Forge, and Independence Hall stood for America. Larger than life.
Whether it was the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) or Camp Haiastan, the Armenian Prelacy or Armenian Youth Foundation, his Gomideh or St. Gregory Church, his immediate family and his extended family, Jack was always on top of his world, making it a better place to dwell.
He played the oud and violin. But most of all, he played the good legionnaire, fighting his illness to the very end until the Good Lord came calling.
His 69 years were lived exceptionally well. It’s not the quantity of life that delineates the man, but the quality. Suffice it to say that Jack left behind a legacy that will long be remembered. If nothing else, he gave Philly an honorable presence, whether it was some committee he served or chairing the National Representative Assembly for eight years.
For a mild-mannered, soft-spoken chap who often preferred the background, Jack carried a powerful voice. He was not an elocutionist or a braggart by any stretch but a thinker. If you needed a job done, you would give it to Jack because he had more than enough to do and couldn’t stand the thought of turning you down. Or remaining idle.
Whether it was the twinkle in his eye, the catch in his voice, or that look of sincerity, Jack had experience going. He was an ambassador whose mission was to serve his heritage with dignity and firmness—not a man to be ignored or dealt with in condescension, but a statesman for a stateless people, a diplomat for a people that needed diplomats.
He had no delusions of grandeur, yet he was grand. He had few pretensions of leadership virtues, and yet he was a leader. He worshipped the heroism of others, little realizing that his nation revered him as a model of devoted service.
And as the legionnaire he was, Jack was always at salute whenever the legion was mustered.
I remember him first as a delegate to AYF Conventions and later at ARF Conventions. He was articulate, intelligent, and effective. When Jack spoke, people listened. I recall that year in 1982 when he was honored before his hometown fans as an Olympic King and how he deferred the tribute to others he felt were more worthy.
His best moments were on an AYF Olympic track, not as an athlete (though he was a pretty decent baseball player) but as a motivator, especially when his children David and Cindy were harvesting medals. He was always there for every “Sebouh” athlete, whether they finished first or last.
I still see him running around the infield with his athletes, encouraging them along with a stopwatch in hand, shouting words of inspiration. He ran every race with every athlete, absorbed their joy and frustration, trials and tribulations. He was not only an advisor, coach, or mentor, but a surrogate father to many.
It irked him more than anything when some of his “kids” lost interest in the games for whatever reason and weren’t representing his city properly. He lived to see Philly retire the cup last summer for the first time and gloated with pride as son David—a chip off the same bloc—-served on the Olympic Governing Body.
An Olympic Ball was never the same without Jack or his wife Armine. In later years, he had taken a back seat but his spirit never waned. As the son-in-law to the legendary Arthur Giragosian, a Providence icon, he needed no further divine intervention.
Think of it as a Norman Rockwell painting of an aging professor speaking words of wisdom to his student. Jack took that knowledge and imparted it to generations that followed. Nothing would have pleased him more than to have seen his four grandchildren participate in an Olympics—Eric and Taline Papazian, and Kail and Alexandra McHugh. I did not know he had a masters degree from Drexel University or was a lieutenant in the U.S. Army once stationed in Germany. He never mentioned it. I did know he worked 35 years at a pharmaceutical firm and had retired as director of administration.
Jack was just as effective in the outside community, especially with the Montgomery County Norristown Public Library where he served as a director the past six years. He remained the consummate American-Armenian.
A man such as this never dies in the eyes of a grateful community. May God rest his soul.