Yeghpayr Vahe no more…
Kind, brilliant, discreet, faithful, generous, genuine, inventive, creative, outgoing and warmhearted are some keywords that could describe Yeghpayr Vahe Doudaklian, a kind and wise soul who always went out of his way making a difference in other people’s lives.
For some of you who are not familiar with the word “yeghpayr,” it means “brother” in Armenian. But in this tribute, “yeghpayr” means much more than that! “Yeghpayr” here embodies genuine, authentic, sincere and limitless love and care.
I have known Yeghpayr Vahe since August 2000. I was wandering around Washington, DC near the White House when I suddenly noticed a brass deer sign and the name “Doudaklian Leathers” between I and K streets NW. The rest is history.
Yeghpayr Vahe was always suited and sharp. A leather apron separated him from his sewing machine or work table. He could be repairing a Briggs & Riley luggage or a Zero-Halliburton case, restoring a Louis Vuitton or Hermes purse, retouching and refreshing an Eastman jacket, fashioning a custom leather portfolio, or just cracking some witty jokes with a governor, a US Senator, a Secret Service agent, US Treasury department director or his local UPS driver. He was an amazing multitasker. While working on an item, he had an eye on the sales floor, checking his computer every once in a while, keeping an eye on the TV while leading interesting and informative conversations.
He was a chain smoker. One day, when I asked him, you love life and are a very smart person, why do you keep smoking that poison? He looked at me smiling and stated that everything has its time, and everything will eventually come to an end. That day, while riding with him towards Gaithersburg in his brand new Toyota Highlander, almost past Canal Road he suddenly took the cigarette pack, crushed it in his palm, looked at me smiling and said, “I guess this is that day, Apo.” He opened the driver’s window and threw the pack out. Laughing, he said, “This is the first and last time I throw something out of the window.” During the last 20 years, I saw him smoke cigars once in a while, but I never saw him with a pack of cigarettes again.
Have you ever wondered about the suitcase that Secret Service agents carry, just footsteps from US presidents? That’s called the “football,” the “nuclear football,” the contents of which are to be used by the President of the United States to authorize a nuclear attack. Do you know who made the “football” for the last six US Presidents? You guessed it right—Yeghpayr Vahe…from scratch. He was, however, annoyed that US government agencies, for their own security or other reasons, never credited his work when these suitcases would go on display in the National History Museum, opting instead to give the credit to Zero-Halliburton.
Yeghpayr Vahe’s main clientele were US governmental agencies, senators, ambassadors, visiting dignitaries and A-listers. He never bragged about his clientele or his unmatched expertise. He had a sharp eye for detail and a refined and updated sense of fashion.
Above all, Yeghpayr Vahe was a bold and straightforward Armenian. He lived in the US for over 45 years. I never heard him using foreign words while speaking in Armenian. He was an avid conversationalist in English and Arabic as well.
Yeghpayr Vahe was born to a modest family in Bourj Hammoud, Lebanon on the 12th of January, 1958. He attended Sofia Hagopian Elementary School and later on worked in various areas of the leather industry manufacturing handbags and shoes. He left Lebanon in the middle of the Civil War and headed to Cyprus, where he temporarily worked in the shoe repair business. In France, he utilized his previous experiences repairing leather jackets until he finally reached the US. He settled in Falls Church, Virginia with his family.
While learning about the US culture and the English language, he continued pursuing invaluable experiences in the repair of leather goods and auto upholstery restoration. His innate entrepreneurial skills combined with his first-hand experiences, and he opened his first custom leather goods and repair shop on P Street and later moved to his DC store in 1983.
Yeghpayr Vahe worked tirelessly day and night. He was a role model to many, including myself. He served on the Board of Trustees of the Soorp Khatch Armenian Apostolic Church in Bethesda, MD for many years, while also serving on the Regional Executive committee of his beloved Homenetmen Eastern Region. He loved soccer and played with many local Homenetmen teams.
He was always there when needed—Homenetmen events, church bazaars, visiting elderly friends or just showing up to say a hello to neighbors or colleagues.
Yeghpayr Vahe fought all his life for a better and safer future. He was looking forward to his retirement and time in his homeland. Unfortunately, a malignant illness cut his dreams short, and he left us with great and warm memories. I am forever grateful I enjoyed his friendship. I will never forget his advice, his kindness and his brotherly smile. I will never forget you, Yeghpayr Vahe. May God rest your soul.
Until we meet again,
Abraham “Apo” Setoyan