By Sonia I. Ketchian
Jack Zaven Noorigian died on June 21 after a lengthy battle with cancer.
Born in New York City on Feb. 14, 1921, Zaven was one of four brothers—Lazarus, George, Zaven, and Harry. He was an avid lifelong lover of the movies and the beach. Zaven was also a great Lincoln buff.
Brothers George, Zaven, and Harry served with distinction in World War II and were awarded the Distinguished Service Medal on May 9, 2001 (see “The Noorigian Brothers: Heroes at War and at Home,” by Daphne Abeel, The Armenian Mirror-Spectator, Dec. 1, 2001). Enlisting in the Navy at 21, Zaven received his boot training in Newport, R.I., where he was able to meet up with his cousin Charles Nakshian, who was already in army uniform (their photo remains). Charlie, the brilliant painter accepted at the Rhode Island School of Design, would be killed in action in February 1944 in Italy one week before his 20th birthday, but eight Noorigian cousins (brothers James, Leon, and Aram, and brothers Edward and Everet Mushegh) would heroically survive the war. Assigned to the Atlantic Fleet, Zaven served on the USS Hamul, the USS Altair (both destroyer tenders) and the USS Hayter (destroyer escort). Zaven was deployed on shake down cruises in Cuba and along the eastern coast of the United States. He also served as a secretary and chief petty officer in Washington, D.C. While stationed near Bermuda, Zaven met Dr. and Mrs. Munro, who had been searching for an Armenian to translate the certificate awarded to Mrs. Munro’s deceased missionary sister, Catherine Fraser. Zaven sent a photocopy to his parents, and eminent writer and editor Penyamin Noorigian promptly returned the translation. It was a blessing (gontag) dated Feb. 15, 1897 from Constantinople’s Archbishop Malachia Ormanian for Fraser’s help to 9,000 Armenian refugees in Bulgaria in the 1890’s, following the Turkish massacres of Armenians from 1894-96. Zaven wrote about her in “The Remarkable Catherine Fraser (1869-99)” (The Armenian Observer, April, 25, 1979).
After the war and his discharge in November 1945, Zaven joined the Foreign Service in 1949 for five years, where he served at the American embassies in Moscow and Belgrade. While abroad, thanks to the access provided by his American diplomatic passport, Zaven made two trips to Kharpert, in 1950 and 1953. Because he was not able to visit Husenig, the birthplace of both his parents, during his first trip, he made a second trip with his mother Takouhi and even managed to shoot a clandestine film of current-day Husenig, which he screened in Providence and the Boston area. His riveting story “Journeys to the Land of Our Ancestors” was published in the Armenian Mirror-Spectator. Zaven’s marriage to a Yugoslav woman later ended in divorce.
Under the G. I. Bill, Zaven completed his B. S. (1957) and M.A. (1962) degrees from Columbia University in New York. Movie connoisseur that he was, Zaven worked as a personal secretary to movie producer Mike Todd before the latter’s fateful plane crash in 1958, and helped promote the film “Around the World in 80 Days.” He went on to work as a high school Spanish teacher in northern New Jersey and subsequently as a school social worker in the Browns Mills School District in southern New Jersey, from which he retired in 1989.
Zaven was handsome, personable, sanguine, caring, warm, intelligent, and efficient, so he was perfect for his job. His memory was phenomenal; he could relate the distant past in vivid detail, such as when, as an adolescent, he delivered to the publisher the manuscript of the first issue of Penyamin Noorigian’s acclaimed literary and political journal “Nor Kir” (in Armenian). Conversations with Zaven were always informative, lively, fun, and a big treat, as were his treasured letters to this writer.
Zaven Noorigian leaves his brother Harry and sister-in-law Rosine, many nieces and nephews, great nieces and nephews, and loving cousins, among whom Philip P. Ketchian and this writer are but two.