Humble FAR Honoree Housepian Follows in Parents’ Footsteps


NEW YORK — The following interview was conducted by Hagop Vartivarian, chair of the ADL Press Committee, recently in New York, with Dr. Edgar Housepian, before he was honored by the Fund for Armenian Relief on Friday, January 15.

Hagop Vartivarian: Dear Dr. Housepian. Let me begin by telling you that this interview is with our Ramgavar newspapers. We are all aware that your father was in fact a father to all the immigrants of the Big New York. How did he dedicate his time and soul to his people?

Dr. Edgar Housepian: It’s very hard to say why he was very generous and very patriotic, but I think there’s only one reason of why he was able to accomplish his role in the Armenian community and that was by believing that when he is helping the Armenian community, he is in fact helping humanity. In additional to that, he had a great sense of humor, which indirectly helped increase the morals of the immigrated Armenians.

He had brought back a lot of his childhood memories from Kessab, which was one of the main reasons of why he offered his willingness to the Armenian community and the society to become helpful when he was a young scholar: he believed that serving humanity was his mission.

My father was born in Kessab and he was a witness of the slaughters in 1895. With his friends he tried to struggle against the unjust and inhumane attitude, but because of very hard situations, they could not return to their homes. Instead my father and his friends ended up in Egypt, with the stream of deportations. For a short period of time, he participated in an Armenian theatre, just to be able to save enough money for his daily necessitates. After some time, he wished to attend pharmaceutical studies, but then realized that it was not his aim in life.

He moved to America in 1900 and started studying at a medical school, at the Long Island Medical College. He gained most of his experience by working on dead bodies. He graduated as a physician in 1905, after which he started to work in this field officially. His younger brother was not educated, so he used his paycheck for his brothers’ education. He continued to collect more medical practice from 1905 till 1909 [serving as a physician on a British ship].

In 1916, he joined the Red Cross and went to Russia, then passing on to Armenia. He stayed there from till March 1918, because of the very hard political situation there.

In 1920, when the medical field improved, he started practicing being a family doctor. In 1951 he suffered from leukemia. He passed away at the age of 76 in 1952.

HV: Do you remember anything about his friendship with Archbishop Tourian?

EH: I was in the first grade when I heard about the assassination of the archbishop. It was a very sad operation, a tragic end especially since it was acted on an archbishop — a clergyman.

HV: What can you remember about the cooperation with yourself and other national leaders and Ramgavar collaborators, as for Dr. Dzovigian, Hratch Yervant etc…?

EH: Our house was always full of national personalities. I was very young and I don’t exactly recall the names of the individuals and every occurrence, however I recollect his intimate friendship with Dr. Dzovigian.

HV: And how about your mother’s (Makrouhi Housepian) contribution to the AGBU?

EH: My mother was an ideal figure of a real Armenian activist woman. She was a long-term, veteran member of the AGBU, and has dedicated unlimited assistance. In the meantime she was also an active member in other Armenian organizations and all her hard work led to new fruitful ideas, and her successful experiences have been a key model for the coming generations. Being in assistance to the Armenian community is an impressive quality within our family, you would think it is a family heir that keeps on living within the generations, and of which we cannot be detached as it is a big part of our lives.

HV: Dr. Housepian, you followed your father’s path as a mission for your life. Your father sought to aid the survivors of the Genocide in 1915, and you as well sought to aid the victims of the last earthquake in Armenia, in order to provide medical and humane services. What can you tell us about the feelings that you felt at the time?

EH: During those tragic days, I was suffering from indecisive actions, as there were horrible losses and distressing aspects. By going to Yerevan I was able to share the sufferings of my fellow Armenians. Although this was a depressing circumstance, but at the same times it was a nice experience. It was painful to see the tortures that my brothers were facing, and it was pleasant to be able to reach their needs as a doctor. I organized a group of volunteers that reached up to 200 and within a couple of days more than 30 professional doctors and I were ready to take off to Armenia, to be able to help the victims of the earthquake.
By doing so, I was convinced that the best way to help humanity is to diversify the medical knowledge.

HV: Other than medical field, what else interests you?

EH: Almost all types of fields interest me, but I love collecting postal stamps. I always travel to be able to see and experience new places and cultures. At the moment, I have three children and that is why I enjoy the coziness of my family.

HV: Have you ever been to Lebanon?

EH: I have not had the pleasure to visit the Middle Eastern countries that often. I have only been to Syria once, but I did not have the opportunity to see Lebanon and to experience the warm Armenian-Lebanese community. The fact that in the name of my father there is a club branch within the Tekeyan center brings me great pleasure.

(Dr. Edgar M. Housepian, a professor emeritus of clinical neurological surgery at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, earned his bachelor’s degree in 1949 and graduated cum laude from Columbia College. He acquired his Doctor of Medicine degree from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1953, and received certification from the American Board of Neurological Surgery in November 1961. He is a member of more than 40 professional societies and has held positions on numerous university, hospital and departmental committees. Housepian has participated in various study groups, and received research grants and prestigious honors for his outstanding work in his field. He has authored numerous articles and books on medical research and methods in neurological studies. He is also chairman of FAR’s Medical Committee.)