Vartabedian: Three Lives Toward Greater Fruition

People often wonder where I get my story ideas and how, over the course of 50 years, I’ve been so productive.
I tell them I’ve been cloned and there are actually three of us who look like me roaming about collecting stories and trying to make a big impression.

In reality, I’m all by myself leading three distinct lives. As a journalist, you learn to branch out, become more diversified, comb the pitfalls of society and become omnipresent. A fellow editor once had the perfect word. He called it “ubiquitous.” Being everywhere at the same time.

His name was Jimmy Tashjian and he was “the ubiquitous Armenian.” Some of that may have rubbed off on me, since he was my mentor and I his scribe. 

One day he took me aside and said, “If you’re writing for a circulation, then you’ve got to circulate. The best stories are those that don’t always come to you. You’ve got to go out and find them.”

I remember some years back watching a TV special called, “I Led Three Lives.” It was a study on the life of Herbert Philbrick, which was ultimately made into a movie. Philbrick was a citizen, communist, and counterspy rolled into one. 

He lived near me in North Hampton, N.H., operated a variety store in Rye, and remained active giving speeches and encouraging youth and adult citizens to exercise their political rights. He also fathered six children.

Suffice it to say that Philbrick made good use of his time and was “ubiquitous” by most standards. 

My first side is that of an Armenian. By attending Gomideh meetings and anniversaries, concerts, public rallies, church functions, there are stories abound. One day it could be a genocide survivor in our midst. The next, perhaps a Sunday School student who becomes a Rhodes Scholar. 

I don’t always find them. They find me. It took me 50 years to find the last one. As a 19-year-older off to the Mekhitarist Monastery in Vienna (a series is now in progress), I received mail frequently from the Bilezikian sisters (Martha and Bethel) who were members with me in the Boston University Armenian Club. We were great friends.

Now, a half century later, I hear Bethel’s daughter operates the only yoga studio in downtown Springfield after giving up a position in corporate America. Both are Charkoudians now and stories have also been done on this side of the family over the years.

Email tips keep rolling in—from an Armenian orphan rug stashed away in storage at the White House looking for a more visible home, to the World War II AYF years when those back home supplied moral support to our troops and kept the organization viable in its infantile years.

Sitting down to lunch with Project SAVE guru Ruth Thomasian, I’m told the organization is celebrating its 35th year and the calendar she produces is into its silver anniversary year. A day doesn’t go by when this catalyst isn’t thinking about archival preservation. 

The American side has me circulating throughout the community in pursuit of material for my weekly column in the Haverhill Gazette, where I retired in 2006 after four decades. Just walk down the street and you’ll bump into a story. 

A guy in a supermarket cornered me with a tip about two ageless musicians in their 90s who still get together twice and week and hold a jam session inside an assisted living center. Seniors walk by and shuffle to the beat. If that doesn’t suffice, the two then pack their instruments and head out to a nursing home where they encounter other convalescing musicians—and the beat goes on. The violinist is a 99-year-old who attributes his longevity to music. 

The third side of me is the nursing home scene where my mother resides. In the course of my everyday visits, I’ve stumbled upon more human interest stories than you can imagine. If it wasn’t the couple married 77 years, then it was the former Miss Massachusetts who looks as radiant as ever despite the years and her immobility in a wheelchair.

There’s the man who visits every day for no other reason but to bring companionship to others less fortunate. And more recently, the two guys who grew up together as neighborhood kids now lending each other physical support as nursing home roommates. 

Whether it’s one life—one side—or a trifecta. More often than not, the three often intertwine and bring more diversity to my day. Many of these stories would wither away into oblivion had they not been exposed.

he best way to ignore a good story is to stop listening.

Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian is a retired journalist with the Haverhill Gazette, where he spent 40 years as an award-winning writer and photographer. He has volunteered his services for the past 46 years as a columnist and correspondent with the Armenian Weekly, where his pet project was the publication of a special issue of the AYF Olympics each September.
Tom Vartabedian

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1 Comment

  1. Hye, Tom, and we enjoy all three of you… enjoy your Weekly column, musings, stories, for years… too, great coverage of AYF Olympics over the years – even Olympics I’ve attended. Manooshag

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