‘Mal Varadian Died with a Smile on His Face’

Mal Varadian wearing that perpetual smile.

Do legends really die?

Not really! Not as long as people hold onto them and cherish the values they left behind. Not as long as we remember them for the good they left and the legacy they carved in everyday life.

Melkon “Mal” Varadian died a happy man, the way most of us would have crafted our demise. The morning of his death, he was at Camp Haiastan doing what he enjoyed best—making sure the church picnic was readied with its food and supplies for the day.

His 88 years afforded experience and ingenuity to the working crew. He had often told others, “If I die tomorrow, I will die with a smile on my face.”

Any time there was a Providence picnic, there was Mal tied to an apron, working behind the scenes and holding court over his beloved. He never acted his age.

While attending the Prelacy dinner this year in Providence, Mal sat at a table with his cohorts. The octogenarian in him seemed to diminish in age as he greeted the younger callers at his table.

If predictions are in order, the Providence AYF will have all the octane it needs in its tank this summer to win an Olympics title in Boston. And the “Varantians” will dedicate their moment to the guy who never failed to send them off with a pep talk or two. He was their modern-day General Nejdeh.

Mal always made it a point to motivate the kids, whether they were running a 400 or taking their first steps at Camp Haiastan. He showed up in Franklin with the likes of Harry Kushigian and Mesrop Odian, telling the young campers everything they wanted to hear in just the right way.

They were living proof of what the camp did for them and hoped the feeling was mutual. “Make the most of your camping experience,” he would say. “And some day you’ll be repaid.”

At an Olympics field, he would gather his clan and preach to them the almighty words of sportsmanship and effort. No one was a better role model than Varadian.

Together with his late brothers Jay, Varad, and Haig, they set the standard for success. One picture of the four brothers locking hands in an Olympic Ad Book reminded you of a relay quartet that was impregnable.

And you also had sister Maro (Varadian) Kachadoorian who was no slouch when it came to her own merit. Or his three children, Michael and his wife Armenie; Sandra Megerdichian and her husband Megerdich; and Malcolm and his wife Kristen.

Nothing pleased Mal more than watching his family develop into vital cogs of the Armenian community. Whether they lived in Providence or not, they still wore green and were considered “Varantians.” Seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren were the extra stars in Mal’s proverbial galaxy.

Varadian disliked fanfare. He shed any limelight and felt more comfortable in the back row of an audience. This past April, the Armenian National Committee (ANC) of Rhode Island wanted to honor him at the annual flag-raising in his home city of Cranston. But he declined.

“Thanks, but no thanks,” he said. “Others deserve the recognition more than me.”

Truth be told, Mal Varadian wouldn’t have recognized his own ego if the two of them met on a side street. He was that humble.

A legend only dies when those who become endeared to him suddenly let go.

“He had a personality that was both charming and true to the receiver,” says his close friend Peter Boranian. “He never sought compliments but always offered them to others. Leave it to Mal for not leaving his post until the job was done as leader of the kitchen brigade.”

After serving with the Army in World War II, Mal and his late wife Zabel operated Public Street Market in South Providence, a community they served for over 40 years. It was here that many of the city’s elite gathered to render news of the day and mollify the world’s ills. Others would come to seek out sound advice from a sage.

Mal participated in the construction of Camp Haiastan and served the Board of Trustees at Sts. Vartanantz Church, where he was also an NRA delegate. He was an Olympic King and National Honorary Member of the AYF, a catalyst of the Providence ARF and ANCA.

One of his pet projects was the fruition of the Armenian Martyrs’ Memorial located at the North Burial Grounds in Providence, which he promoted to the hilt.

His retirement was disguised by helping various Armenian causes, including the kitchens of his church and camp, together with the many groups he patronized.

Memorial contributions may be made to AYF Camp Haiastan, P.O. Box C, Franklin, MA 02038.

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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.
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1 Comment

  1. In our Armenian community life , there are two essential areas of contribution…. conducting the day to day work of the Armenian nation and inspiring others to carry on. Mal had the skill, passion and humility to be a role models in both domains par excellence. His work ethic was legendary and his ability to motivate other to participate in some way is an incredible legacy.
    Our communities in the diaspora thrive because true leaders understand the need to inspire successive generations. Mal speaking in June to the Camp Haiastan staff is a wonderful example of his gift…to lead by example, to believe in who we are and to take the time to inspire others so that this incredible identity we call Armenian Christians continue for future generations.
    In our communities, there hundreds probably thousands of us who have been influenced, inspired and motivated ,in some manner, by this humble son of Armenia. This is his legacy and why our greatest tribute is that Mal will remain forever in a special place in our hearts.

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