Vartan Gregorian, the former president of New York Library and Brown University, and more recently the leader of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, passed away Friday. He was 87.
Born in Tabriz, Iran, Vartan Gregorian overcame countless challenges he faced as a young immigrant to the United States and went on to build a remarkable career that spanned several decades and crossed the lines of academia, philanthropy, and culture within and beyond his adopted country. He was an ardent advocate of education and enlightenment, seeing books as “stations of hope, education and better future.”
In 1956, he enrolled at Stanford University, where he majored in history and the humanities, graduating with honors in 1958. Vartan Gregorian was awarded a Ph.D. in history and humanities by Stanford in 1964 and received the Danforth Foundation’s E.H. Harbison Distinguished Teaching Award in 1969. In 1972 he joined the University of Pennsylvania faculty and was appointed Tarzian Professor of History and professor of South Asian history. He was founding dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania in 1974 and four years later became its twenty-third provost until 1981.
In 1981–1989, Vartan Gregorian served as President of The New York Public Library and was widely credited with restoring the status of the library as a cultural landmark. In 1989, he was appointed president of Brown University. Brown became both more global, more academically competitive, and more financially secure under his leadership: during his tenure, he led a campaign that raised over $500 million, bringing the institution’s endowment past the $1 billion mark. Since 1997, Dr. Gregorian served as the twelfth president of Carnegie Corporation of New York. In 1998, he was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Clinton, and in 2004 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civil award of the United States, by President Bush.
Vartan Gregorian was a man of great inner strength, a reservoir of compassion and infinite wisdom. He was awarded numerous fellowships, including from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Social Science Research Council, and the American Philosophical Society. In addition, he has received scores of honorary degrees and has been decorated by the French, Italian, Austrian, and Portuguese governments.
In his lifelong mission to achieve global prosperity and peace, Vartan Gregorian always spoke up on behalf of the most destitute and disenfranchised. Committed to the eradication of genocide, discrimination and persecution, he has become a mentor and a beacon of hope for all inspired by his empathy and determination. He guided the younger generation with kindness and acuity, changing lives and constantly leading by personal example of selflessness and commitment.
A prolific author, Vartan Gregorian published several books, including The Road To Home: My Life and Times, Islam: A Mosaic, Not a Monolith, and The Emergence of Modern Afghanistan, 1880-1946.
In 2015, together with Noubar Afeyan and Ruben Vardanyan, he co-founded the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative on behalf of the survivors of the Armenian Genocide and in gratitude to their saviors. The Aurora Humanitarian Initiative and its flagship program, the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, seek to transform this experience into a global movement by addressing on-the-ground humanitarian challenges around the world with the focus on helping the destitute.
Official condolence messages began pouring in soon after the news of Gregorian’s passing was announced.
“Vartan Gregorian, who on his birthday, April 8, was handed his Armenian citizenship, was dedicated to his Nation, a true devotee of Homeland-Diaspora, as can be attested by his pro-Armenian activities,” said President Armen Sarkissian in a condolence message on Friday. “During our conversations, during various events, I became convinced of that.”
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan called Gregorian “a great patriot.”
“Vartan Gregorian was dedicated the Armenian community in the United States. It is no coincidence that the Armenian-born intellectual, who left the Iranian city of Tabriz in his early years and studied at Armenian educational institutions in Beirut, entertained strong spiritual ties with his people. His inherent qualities of a true Armenian intellectual-humanist made him co-found Aurora humanitarian initiative in the last years of his life,” said Pashinyan in a condolence message on his and his spouse Anna Hakobyan’s behalf.