Tom Vartabedian and AYF Olympics: One Spirit

This tribute to Tom Vartabedian, as well as other articles penned by special guests, was published in the September 5 Special Edition of the Armenian Weekly honoring the AYF Olympics.

Tom Vartabedian was a great person and a great Armenian. He loved his people and dedicated much of his life to supporting the ARF, the AYF, the church and The Armenian Weekly. This dedication and passion shined when it came to the AYF Olympics. He personified the spirit of the games and the camaraderie of the weekend and exemplified the lifelong connection of the AYF family. 

Tom started covering the Olympics when Jim Tashjian asked him to report on a few events. His involvement grew to a significant and consuming dimension. For 40 some years, Tom covered the Olympics by himself with a love and dedication so few have had for the organization over these many years. His pictures and articles made up the most anticipated Weekly issue of any year: The Olympics Issue.

The Olympics Issue began simply as articles in the Weekly. Tom’s first insert was in 1977 and was 12 pages. Over the years the Olympics Issue grew to a full 16-page insert, an endless delight for many families who looked forward to reading it in their homes and reliving the memories from just a few weeks before. The issue would rest on many family room tables until the next Olympics. There are many AYFers who would never part with those issues and would file them away for future reference. Clearly, Tom was the most vocal public relations manager the AYF has ever had.

With cameras over his shoulders, notepads filling the pockets of his shorts and a pencil on his ear, he would literally run from event to event to gather results, quotes and take pictures. He highlighted high scorers as well as those who tried hard for their chapters and earned second and third place finishes.

Olympic participants, families and friends attend the events to have fun; Tom’s version of fun was working, being a journalist. He was non-stop throughout the entire long weekend, supported by his most understanding wife Nancy and children, Ara, Raffi and Sona.

Through his work and dedication, he preserved and magnified Olympic memories for generations.

We who took over for him always comment that it now takes five people to do the work he did all by himself for so many years.

Bob Tutunjian, who makes a significant contribution to the Olympics Issue each year, started working with Tom in the late 70s. He helped Tom by providing information about the games, anecdotes, etc. “I learned a lot from Tom,” said Bob. “He was a close friend and we all miss him, especially this time of year. Olympics and Tom were one.”

Mark Gavoor, who spearheads the Olympic coverage with 24/7 energy for what seems to be a week, added, “Tom loved the Olympics and the weekend fraternalism with everyone. It showed in his articles and pictures. He is with us especially at every Olympics. He mentored all five of us and set us up to continue the legacy of excellent Olympic coverage started by Jimmy Tashjian and taken to another level by Tommy.”

That’s right. Five of us do what he did by himself. Bob Tutunjian, Harry Derderian and Mark Gavoor write the articles. Tamar Kanarian, Sona Gevorgian and Mark take the photos. 

In addition to the Olympics, let’s not forget Tom started writing his “Poor Tom’s Almanac” column in 1970 and wrote a column a week for 46 years; that is 2,392 columns.

In 2001, he was chosen Olympic king at the Boston games. This was an honor he truly deserved and most humbly treasured.

He did not have a topspin forehand on the tennis court—he was a scrapper and chased every ball down—but he had an endless dimension of love of organization, his fellow AYF family members and gave endless hours of volunteering. It was time for the organization and the generations of AYF family to say “thank you.”

No one will follow—he left a peerless legacy.

Tom was continuously active—12 months a year—in his beloved Haverhill and Merrimack Valley with ARF and various community endeavors including teaching Sunday school, creating awareness of the Genocide, as AYF advisor and encouraging youth to be engaged in their communities.

In his “other life” as a longtime journalist with the Haverhill Gazette, he won several awards from the Associated Press for writing and photography. He was a notable, recognized and consummate journalist; the Weekly and its readership benefitted from his talent.

Tom could have joined the renowned Boston Globe—the money was more—but he loved his small town family of Haverhill in quaint Merrimack Valley. He knew what he loved, and he loved what he did.

Not known to many and with a great deal of pride, he was a repeat Merrimack Valley racquetball champ in his 60-plus senior age groups. He repeatedly qualified for national competition.

Mountain climbing? Tom climbed many a mountain in New England. He loved to tour the National Parks of this great nation.

There are so many dimensions to Tommy Vartabedian! But, most dear to his heart was the Olympics and his dedication to preserving and lifting the AYF spirit, its family of participants and spreading the goodwill the AYF creates and passes on through the generations.

Every year at the games, we still see Tom and his signature smile walking with cameras on his shoulders, pencil on his ear and notepads bulging out from his pockets.

When the tri-color finally is waving in the wind next year in Worcester, Tom will be there. He is in our hearts and memories forever. We carry forth his legacy with great pride.

The AYF Olympics is Tom; Tom is the AYF Olympics.

Thank you, Tom.

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Mark Gavoor is Associate Professor of Operations Management in the School of Business and Nonprofit Management at North Park University in Chicago. He is an avid blogger and oud player.
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Harry Derderian

Harry Derderian is a native of Indian Orchard, Mass and resident of Farmington Hills, Mich. He is a member of the Marketing faculty at Eastern Michigan University as well as adjunct professor of marketing at University of Michigan-Dearborn and adjunct Professor of Business at Schoolcraft Community College.
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Bob Tutunjian

Bob Tutunjian

Bob Tutunjian is President of Vivaproducts, a medical device company in Massachusetts. He has been actively involved with the AYF and the Olympics since 1967 and has written many articles covering this event.
Bob Tutunjian

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1 Comment

  1. Tom truly deserves this honor and recognition. He was a great Armenian and a kind, caring human being. He and I together, via phone, used to grade the AYF chapter educationals back in the early 70s. He always was upbeat with a welcoming smile. The Olympics won’t be the same without his presence.

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