Living the Golden Age of Usefulness

What is it they say about old age? The years don’t really matter unless you’re wine or cheese. And then, it ripens to perfection.

Lately, I’ve been enamored by stories concerning our elderly population, not that I didn’t in my younger journalism days. I always went out of my way to locate a story about outstanding senior citizens. Now, because I am one, they find me.

Leo and Mary Sarkisian
Leo and Mary Sarkisian

I went to a piano recital with my wife, only because the instructor invited me to a cheap evening of entertainment. Music does cure the savage beast, you know, and lately with all the genocide commemorations and Vehapar’s visits, I was getting a bit fatigued.

The woman was 88. She’s been teaching piano for 68 years in my community and hasn’t fallen across the keyboard yet. Matter of fact, she’s shooting for 90, then 95, and with any luck at all, 100.

And here’s what she tells me. Hanging around younger students keeps her young, fit, and mobilized. Two knee replacements, a bout with cancer, and a number of other ailments cannot keep this good woman down.

Just when I thought I’d struck gold with this golden-ager, on comes another story about a World War II veteran named Harold Paragamian who accomplished a lifetime goal. At the ripe age of 92, he secured a degree in liberal arts from Merrimack College.

A lot of the credits he received came from giving presentations to the public about his military service.

The students at commencement were young enough to be his great-grandchildren. When the college president conferred his degree, it was truly a wonderful moment for humanity. More on this later.

Margaret Bedrosian’s grief at the loss of her son in the military has been undeniable, especially when the town of Methuen failed to give proper recognition to this hero. A shrine was finally erected by the town hall and, this past Memorial Day, an honorable award was given.

She was invited to share a hallowed moment at the town parade with officials who presented the family with a tribute. More on this later, too.

Which brings me to another Armenian couple. Leo and Mary Sarkisian of Tewksbury continue to live an adventurous life since the day they wed in 1948. They’ve been to 85 countries, thanks to Leo’s job with Edward R. Morrow’s “Voice of America.”

They both served in World War II, Leo in intelligence earning a Bronze Star and Mary as a decoding specialist with the U.S. Navy. Now, 66 years later, a lifetime of memories translates out to “a big dance.”

One is 94. The other is 92. They met at an Armenian dance in my hometown of Haverhill shortly after the war and never looked back. They’ve been swaying to the music ever since, even inside the assisted living center they inhabit.

A lifetime filled with national service has turned into a ritual of art, culture, travel and pride for their ethnic heritage. Both personify the very goodness of Armenian Americans from Merrimack Valley and Lawrence.

“My wife and I are still dancing,” Leo says. “Our whole life has been one great dance.”

The work experience paid dividends for Leo. He was hired by broadcasting legend Edward R. Morrow in 1961 to work for “Voice of America,” the official external broadcaster for the United States government.

Over a career that spanned just under half a century, Leo traveled the world with a primary focus in Africa. Over that time, he harbored one of the world’s most extensive collections of African music, even hosting his own music show before retiring three years ago.

His connections with the job led to meetings with presidents and kings of all countries, listening to their stories and sharing many of his own. Often, he would let his music do the talking.

Distance never kept the two apart whenever Leo sauntered off to another land. Mary often joined her husband on these trips, the first being to Afghanistan where she found the people friendly.

One prized possession they own is a kanoun, a harp-like instrument used to play Armenian music. Another common interest has been their art. Both are accomplished with paintings and photographs of their travels.

“I was once told that my life is like an African proverb,” Leo says. “When a door opens, you go inside. Our adventures have been the result of seizing opportunities.”

As Armenians, we have been struck by opportunity and fullfillness. Every community has people who have distinguished themselves in ripe old age. As a billionaire investor, Kirk Kerkorian donated willfully and generously to a number of Armenian causes. For that, he will always be appreciated. His death at age 98 is a testimony to accomplishment.

Time is a gift, only if we appreciate it!

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. The beautiful story of Leo and Mary Sarkisian is made sweeter with Leo’s quote, “Our whole life has been one great dance”. May they be blessed with many more years of dancing together.

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