Gerard Cafesjian Dies


ST. PAUL (Combined Sources) — Prominent Armenian benefactor Gerard Cafesjian died at the age of 88 on September 15.

Cafesjian was a businessman and philanthropist who founded the Cafesjian Family Foundation (CFF), the Cafesjian Museum Foundation (CMF) and the Cafesjian Center for the Arts.

He was born April 26, 1925 in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. His parents had come to the United States preceding the Armenian Genocide of 1915.

After amphibious training, he served in the United States Navy in WWII aboard JP Morgan’s yacht, the Corsair III. The ship did extensive survey work in and around Guadalcanal and other Solomon Islands. He also served aboard the USS Andres (DE45), a destroyer escort for convoys from the United States to North Africa.

When he returned after the war he married Cleo Thomas, a nurse he had met during the war.

He earned a degree in economics from Hunter College, and a law degree from St. John’s University Law School.

He was a self-made man who rose through the ranks at West Publishing, starting as a legal editor in New York City. He was transferred to the home office in St. Paul, Minn. He eventually became executive vice president. At West, he also conceived of and started the West Legal Directory and a well-known program, “Art and the Law,” which earned him and West numerous awards.

Cafesjian retired from West Publishing when it was sold to Thompson Publishing in 1996.

After attending to his family needs, Cafesjian established the Cafesjian Family Foundation. Through that foundation he devoted millions of dollars to Armenia on relief projects including renewable energy, a TV station, a newspaper, contributed to the clearing of land mines by specially-trained dogs, founded a bank, insurance company, and supplied the resources for many other projects. If any of the projects were to prove successful, the profits were to remain in Armenia for further development.

He received accolades and recognition from both the United States and Armenia institutions, including the Ellis Island Award in 2000.

Cafesjian completely renovated the Cascade site in downtown Yerevan. The Cascade was a crumbling Soviet structure of epic proportions. He opened the Cafesjian Center for the Arts at the Cascade in 2009. The museum enjoys a world-class sculpture garden with works by Botero, Flanagan, Chadwick, Plensa and Lalanne, to name a few.

Toward the end of his life, he and the CFF became embroiled in a protracted suit regarding the proposed Armenian Genocide Museum and Memorial in Washington, DC, that never got off the ground.

A consolidated complaint had pitted the Armenian Assembly of America and the Armenian Genocide Museum and Memorial against two former board members, Gerard Cafesjian and John Waters, and the Cafesjian Family Foundation.

Cafesjian, a founding member of the museum’s board of trustees, helped purchase the museum site, a vacant National Bank building at 14th and G Street in downtown Washington. He stepped back, however, after the board later failed to reach consensus on how to complete the museum.

He had Waters, his right-hand man, to succeed him, but the board excluded Waters from further participation in the project after Cafesjian sued the Assembly for payment of an unpaid promissory note.