Robert Mugar Yacubian died peacefully on February 22, 2021 at the Boca Raton Regional Hospital in Florida, following a brief illness. He was 84 years old.
Born to Armenian immigrants Kourken and Alice (Mugar) Yacubian, Robert was the middle child between older sister Gloria and younger sister Susan. As children, his parents immigrated to the United States in the early years of the twentieth century to escape the Armenian Genocide by the Ottoman Turks.
The family’s ancestral roots were in Harput and Malatya, in what is now eastern Turkey. Robert spent childhood summers with his grandmother Vosgitel Mugar in Watertown, Massachusetts and learned Armenian in her house. Like many who flee ethnic violence, his elders wanted to forget their haunted memories. “Don’t play that sad music,” they used to say about plaintive Armenian songs.
As he grew up, Robert cultivated a mischievous sense of humor and a love of life that defied any ancestral persecution. He delighted those around him with imitations, malapropisms and colorful Armenian phrases. He, too, did not have time for sad songs, but he savored classical music concerts, especially joyous composers like Hayden and Mozart. He also frequented musicals that would preview in Boston before hitting Broadway and sat on the Board of Directors of the UMass Fine Arts Center.
In the early 1970s, Robert met his lifelong friend Richard Weil. Richard shared Robert’s love of music and fine art, of gourmet food and travel, and of sunshine on the beach. The two traveled extensively in this country and abroad, often with dear friends.
Like so many immigrant families, the Yacubians emphasized hard work, education and helping others. Robert’s career as transfer coordinator at Greenfield Community College combined these virtues in a distinctive way. He helped thousands of students transfer to four-year institutions, including several highly selective colleges and universities like Smith, Mount Holyoke, Amherst, Williams and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He was particularly effective in sending women to Smith College via the Ada Comstock Scholars Program for students of nontraditional college age.
Even in retirement, Robert continued to be devoted to his students, establishing a yearly transfer scholarship at Greenfield Community College. He served two terms on the Board of Directors of the College Foundation and was honored as its first director emeritus. The Advising Center at the College now bears his name.
Robert himself earned a master’s degree at UMass Amherst after graduating from Babson College and Belmont High School, with a postgraduate year at Tabor Academy. In Greenfield, he settled into a house that matched his colorful personality—the deep red Saltbox on Newell Pond, an iconic structure that dates to 1730.
He was proud of his American upbringing, but Armenia was also always present in his life, in different ways at different times. He took a sabbatical leave from the College to spend the 1996 spring term in the capital city of Yerevan, where his sister Susan was working. Times were difficult, with the recent collapse of the Soviet Union leaving an earthquake-torn country struggling to rebuild. But Robert established the Career Services Office at the American University of Armenia, forging lasting friendships and refreshing his Armenian language skills.
Robert’s family was deeply important to him. He encouraged his younger sister Susan’s education and unorthodox career, which took her from secondary school administration to non-governmental development work in Armenia, India and Uganda. Her children Nicole and Alex remain devoted to him, as he was to them. He took great joy in their lives and accomplishments, and in their families.
Especially in retirement, Robert would spend increasing time during the summer with his older sister Gloria on Cape Cod in Cotuit, enjoying close-knit friendships at Riley’s Beach. He spent winters in Boca Raton. His dear Aunt Helen was his original connection to Florida, and he eventually bought a condominium in her building. Gloria passed away in late 2019. After a final trip to Puerto Rico to help handle her affairs in early March of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic confined Robert to Boca Raton for the final year of his life. During this difficult time, his beloved caregiver Maurio François looked after him night and day, showing compassion, patience, skill and understanding that had already aided and comforted Robert for more than five years.
Robert was predeceased by his sister Gloria Yacubian Myers and is survived by his younger sister Susan Yacubian Klein of Princeton, NJ; his niece Nicole Klein Sims and her husband Ethan Sims, along with their children Zoe and Téa of Boise, ID; his nephew Alex Klein and his wife Joanie Ellen, along with their children Roscoe and Clyde of Belfountain, Canada; his longtime friend Richard Weil of Boston; his caregiver Maurio François; his cousin Carolyn Mugar of Cambridge; and many other loving cousins and friends.
Those wishing to remember Robert may make a gift to:
The Robert Mugar Yacubian Transfer Scholarship
Greenfield Community College Foundation
One College Drive
Greenfield, MA 01301-9739
Please make checks payable to the Greenfield Community College Foundation.
Given the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic, funeral arrangements and a celebration of Robert’s life will be deferred to a later date.