In Memory of Dr. Edgar Housepian


In Memory of Dr. Edgar Housepian: Unforgettable Personal Recollections
By Hagop Vartivarian
NEW YORK – He was one of the three founders of the Diocesan Fund for Armenian Relief (FAR), which quickly aided our compatriots in the disaster zone of the great Armenian earthquake of 1988. This fund, created upon the initiative of the Primate of the Armenians of the Eastern United States, Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, with the participation of Armenian philanthropist Kevork Hovnanian and prominent physician Dr. Edgar Housepian, was extremely effective. It continues even today to operate in the same meticulous and productive fashion. It is run by a separate office in the Diocesan complex in New York.
On February 14, 2015, a memorial service (hokehankisd) for Dr. Housepian was held at noon at St. Vartan Cathedral of the Armenian Diocese at which the current Primate, Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, paid tribute to Housepian’s many merits. Afterwards, over 200 Armenians participated in the memorial meal (hokejash) in the Haik and Alice Kavookjian Auditorium of the Diocese held under the Primate’s patronage. Among those in attendance were the Permanent Representative of Armenia to the United Nations, Ambassador Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, officials of the Diocese, leaders of the Armenian Democratic Liberal Party (ADLP) chapter of New York, local Armenians and friends.
Many members of FAR were present at the memorial program, led by the chairman of its board of directors Randy Sapah-Gulian. Dr. Tavit Najarian, son-in-law of benefactor Kevork Hovnanian, served as master of ceremonies. Speakers included FAR members Dr. Aram Chobanian, former president of Boston University and former dean of the School of Medicine of the same university, and Prof. Annette Choolfaian of New York Medical College, who has served as a high-level administrator in various American hospitals, and the three children of the late Dr. Housepian-Stephen, Jean and Dr. David Housepian.
Here I will excerpt a brief section of the interview I conducted with Dr. Edgar Housepian on July 9, 2009, which has appeared in my Armenian-language book Hantibumner-5 [Encounters, Vol. 5]. I posed the following question: “You followed your father’s path as your mission in life and in this fashion accomplished many venerable things. Your father helped aid survivors of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, whereas you assisted victims of the recent earthquake in Armenia by providing them with medical and philanthropic aid. What can you tell us about the experiences you had in that period?”
Dr. Housepian responded: “During those tragic days I was tormented by indecisive steps, since there were terrible losses and grievous circumstances. By going to Yerevan, I became able to share in the agony of the Armenian natives, so dear to me. Although these were discouraging conditions, it was at the same time a good experience. It was sad to see the agony my brothers were enduring, but it was also pleasant as a physician to be able to meet their needs. I organized a group of volunteers, which reached the number of 200, and within several days came to include 30 physicians. The group was ready to leave for Armenia and help those suffering as a result of the earthquake. In doing this, I was convinced that the best way to serve mankind was through the dissemination of medical knowledge.”
The respected doctor was the worthy offspring of ADLP member Dr. Movses Housepian and his wife Makrouhi, a longtime member of the Armenian General Benevolent Union’s Central Board. Consequently, Edgar and his sister Dr. Marjorie Housepian (Dobkin) grew up in a true Armenian household in New York. Their father was a physician who served the Armenian community of New York and then went to Echmiadzin to serve his people again during the days of famine and exile of the first Republic of Armenia. Out of gratitude, the Armenian Democratic Liberals named their New York chapter after their veteran fellow party member.
Dr. Edgar Housepian, a renowned neurosurgeon at Columbia University, followed in the footsteps of his father. He visited the earthquake disaster zone in Armenia in 1990 upon the request of Diocesan Primate Archbishop Manoogian. After returning to the US, the aid he sent turned into a blessing for the victims. Arranging for the dispatch of drugs and surgery room equipment, frequent visits to Armenia of specialist physicians, and the placement of Armenians requiring complex medical care in various American hospitals turned Housepian into the worthy successor of his father.
In 2011, the Tekeyan Cultural Association (TCA) organized an evening in the memory of Dr. Movses Housepian, at which his son Edgar was present. He was happy that his father’s ideological friends had never forgotten his father.
We lived in the same city of Englewood, NJ, and occasionally encountered each other in stores, art galleries or restaurants. He had invited the editor of Beirut’s Zartonk newspaper, ADLP member Baydzig Kalaydjian, and I to lunch at Columbia’s VIP hospital cafeteria. He was happy to hear that Armenian community life continued in Lebanon and Syria. He had one last desire-to visit the birthplace of his father, Kessab. He was enthusiastic to meet with our young newspaper editor, and he himself wanted to have our interview as a souvenir of that meeting, for which I am grateful.
On February 14, 2014 I had invited Dr. Housepian to a reception organized at my home in honor of the newly elected patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Nourhan Manougian. It was a cold evening. The roads and sidewalks were icy and frozen. Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, priests, Armenian public figures, benefactors, and leaders of TCA and ADLP were among the over 50 guests.
Dr. Housepian was happy to be once more in the midst of his father’s ideological associates, old Armenian friends and clerics. He did not know that this would be his last encounter with this select group. In the afternoon of the next day, Dr. Raffy Hovanessian informed me that Dr. Housepian had fallen on the ice in the morning and had lost consciousness. Extensive medical care and his powerful will to live unfortunately were not sufficient to cure him, and he finally passed away on November 14 of the same year, at the age of 86.
Great men are modest and humble. Dr. Edgar Housepian with his modesty and lack of pretension was certainly a great man. He was a great philanthropist and, above all, a great Armenian patriot.
(Translated from the Armenian)