Letter to My Unger Tom

My good unger Tom,

I received the news on Sunday morning—a peculiarly sunny, warm mid-November morning I will not soon forget.

It was clear where I had to be after getting the message about your untimely passing: the Armenian Weekly offices at the Hairenik building in Watertown, where we first met in person. Though I had seen your coverage of the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) Olympic Games over the years and had several conversations over the telephone, it was here last April that I had the pleasure of meeting you face to face for the first time.

'As I shuffled through the pages and was transported to the different decades you covered, I stumbled across something special—your very first column for the Weekly.'
‘As I shuffled through the pages and was transported to the different decades you covered, I stumbled across something special—your very first column for the Weekly.’

Soon enough I found myself scouring through the bound, yellowed pages of the back issues of the Armenian Weekly.

Your presence in those pages—through your columns, articles, and photographs—was one of the few constants in the past fifty years of the nearly century-old publication.

As I shuffled through the pages and was transported to the different decades you covered, I stumbled across something special—your very first column for the Weekly.

You begin your first “Poor Tom’s Almanac” with a Byron quote that could not be more fitting for your outlook during your illustrious career that followed.

“Laugh at all the things,
Great and small things,
Sick or well, at sea or shore,
Let’s laugh!
Who the devil cares for more.”

Following the quote, you open by laying out your motto in what you call “life’s game:”

“I try to make every day merrier than the last.”

You stuck to these words until the very end, unger, and I truly admire you for that.

I admire the faith, conviction, and courage you displayed; not only in your latest battle, but over the years—in every activity you undertook.

From the dedication to your craft and your years of service to the Armenian Weekly, to serving as an Armenian teacher for decades, to being such a strong advocate for our collective cause… From your love of racquetball, to the success of your insightful book, and even finally joining that church choir—you did it all with devotion and class through and through.

You did it all with that positive spirit you mentioned in your first column 46 years ago.

And for that, I envy you—բարի նախանձ (bari nakhandz [virtuous envy]). I wish to one day have that same faith, conviction, and hope you so effortlessly displayed throughout your exemplary life.

As I read through your first column and came to the concluding sentence, I smiled to myself and remembered your unmatched wit. For only you could have pulled it off so well, unger.

Only you could have ended your first column—dated Oct. 22, 1970—with the same line that you began your last.

“So, as the dog said when he bit his tail, ‘This must be the end!’”

Yes. In true Tom fashion, you pulled it off. Bravo.

But know well that this is not the end, unger.

We may all be mortals, but I am certain that your legacy will live on for generations. For young dreamers such as myself look to you—and others like you—as sources of inspiration and as examples, օրինակելի (orinakeli [exemplary]) unger.

Հողը թեթեւ գայ, ընկեր. (Hoghuh tetev gah, unger [May the earth lay softly, comrade])

You’ve done well.
In admiration, always,

Rupen Janbazian
Nov. 14, 2016


After a courageous battle with liver cancer, longtime Armenian Weekly columnist Tom Vartabedian passed away on the night of Nov. 12. 

Vartabedian’s name is no stranger to the pages of the Armenian Weekly—he has volunteered his services as a columnist and correspondent with the paper for nearly a half century. His countless articles have appeared in several Armenian and non-Armenian publications over the years, covering everything from community events and initiatives, to interesting individuals and their stories from both Armenia and the Armenian Diaspora. For decades, readers looked forward to his weekly “Poor Tom’s Almanac” column, which has been published for 46 consecutive years, since 1970.

The Armenian Weekly will highlight Vartabedian’s work and legacy in the coming weeks.


Rupen Janbazian

Rupen Janbazian is the former editor of The Armenian Weekly. His writings primarily focus on politics, human rights, community, literature, and Armenian culture. He has reported from Armenia, Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabagh), Turkey, Canada, the United States, and Western Armenia. He has served on the local and national executives of the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) of Canada and Hamazkayin Toronto, and served as the administrator of the Armenian National Committee (ANC) of Toronto. Janbazian also taught Armenian History and Creative Writing at the ARS Armenian Private School of Toronto, and has worked on several translations.

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  1. Dear Mr.Rupen Janbazian
    Enjoyed reading your page here for our Dear Tom.
    Yes indeed, he influenced all around him for better and positively.
    We will miss him, with tears on our eyes and laughter framing our face, we will just cherish his memories and simply share his articles.
    I always told Tom, if he could take all of this Almanac and made it into a book.
    “Poor Tom’s Almanac,” would make a great read for many.
    God Bless.
    Thank you.
    Felix Gregorian.

  2. My recollection of the Hairenik was its location on (212) Stuart Street, downtown Boston where my family visited for my Dad’s ARF and later my AYF events. Little did I know that I shared a hometown with Unger Tom while periodically reading his posts and now his last. A strong, intelligent, dedicated to his roots, master of his craft and extraordinary human being.

  3. Tom accomplished during his exemplary life what we dream of…..to simply make a difference . For the hundreds of kids he taught Armenian to dutifully for decades( my children were two)…..for all the photojournalists he inspired with his passionate and humble conviction……. for all the high school kids who he enlightened on the Armenian Genocide thought the educational programs he was so committed to…….for all the Olympic attendees who waited patiently for his Olympic wrap articles……
    For his dedication as an Armenian patriotic who role modeled how to be an active Armenian-American……’The list goes on, but simply for always being Tom , day in and day out , decade after decade. Look up the word commitment with humility and you should see a picture of Tommy.
    Asdvadz Hokin Louysavoreh.

  4. Thank you Roupen for you insightful coverage of Unger Tom, I only knew him through his writings. We all need Tom’s Armenian vitamins to go on with our life. Roupen, keep writing, keep informing us, it is through Armenian Toms and Armenian Roupens that we survive in the diaspora, we are enlightened and we are encouraged to go forward.

  5. Sad….very sad… What a loss…..Heartfelt condolences to Tom’s loving family and extended Armenian/American family throughout the world…..His column October 15, 2016 MORE SMILES KEEP THE FROWNS AWAY is posted on my memory board in the home office……He and Betty Apigian Kessel were my absolute favorites in the Armenian Weekly. His memory will live forever and ferment in the wisdom of the earth.

  6. Dear Rupen,
    Thank you very much for your very moving article about Tom. I will miss him very much. I have wonderful memories of him. He made me feel that I have accomplished some important things in my life which he wrote with such humor and wit.

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