Vartan Gregorian, an internationally-known teacher and president of New York’s Carnegie Corporation, passed away unexpectedly on April 15 shortly after being hospitalized with a stomach pain. He was 87 years old.
Dr. Gregorian was an honorary board member of the Center for Public Diplomacy at the University of Southern California, and earlier served for nine years as the 16th president of Brown University.
In his autobiography, The Road to Home: My Life and Times, Dr. Gregorian chronicles a childhood of poverty, loneliness and yet, enhancement in the Armenian quarter of Tabriz, Iran.
As the world bounced back from depression in the late 1930s, only to face World War II, his mother died, leaving his grandmother Voski as his loving mentor for his flight to the West and life ahead. He learned the hard lessons of poverty as a youngster, how to survive the harshness of his childhood, the toughness required for survival.
Then, without a formal education, he absorbed what one biographer described as “the fairy tale that explained existence, the place and name of his own star in the night sky, how to maneuver as part of a minority Christian community in a then benevolent Muslim kingdom… and the exciting world of ten-year-old American films about the U.S. West.”
Young Vartan Gregorian attended elementary school in Iran, and high school in Lebanon. In 1956, he enrolled at Stanford University, where he majored in history and the humanities before graduating with honors two years later. He later received a PhD from Stanford in 1964, and was a Phi Beta Kappa awards recipient.
Gregorian’s life ahead as a highly-educated U.S. citizen
Professor Gregorian later taught European and Middle Eastern history at San Francisco State College, UCLA, and the University of Texas in Austin. In 1972, he joined the University of Pennsylvania faculty as a professor of South Asian history. Four years later, he became its 23rd provost.
In 1981, it was on to New York, as president of the New York Public Library. That gigantic institution then supervised a network of four research and 83 circulating libraries. It served as Dr. Gregorian’s entry into and service in public service institutions around the globe.
Scholarly books and articles on public diplomacy
As mentioned earlier, Vartan was the author of The Road to Home: My Life and Times, Islam: A Mosaic, Not a Monolith. He later published The Emergence of Modern Afghanistan, 1880-1946. His fellowships over the years included those from Phi Beta Kappa, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Social Science Research Council, and the American Philosophical Society.
When did he ever sleep?
In 1988, President Clinton awarded Professor Gregorian the National Humanities Medal and in 2004, President Bush honored him with the famed Medal of Freedom. The professor, over many years, had served on the boards of literally countless organizations including:
—the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in Washington, D.C.
—the American Academy in Berlin
—the J. Paul Getty Trust
—the Aga Khan University
—the Qatar Foundation
—the McGraw-Hill Companies
—Human Rights Watch
—The McGraw Hill Companies and
—The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
A reviewer of My Life and Times summed it all up:
“Vartan Gregorian learned the magic of the innumerable worlds he could find in books — and that spell and sentiment grew more powerful throughout his life.”
His life of learning turned out to be a sharp contrast to constraints imposed by his father during his youth years in Tabriz. What a contribution his insights had on generations of scholars, here in America and around the globe!
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More