By Tom Vartabedian
[Editor’s Note: Tom Vartabedian is not with us any more, but even in death, he was considerate. On October 13, as I checked my emails, I saw a message from Tom with the heading “Last Column.” In the note, he very coolly wrote how this would be his last column, to be published after his passing. “You’re welcome to use this when the moment arrives,” he wrote, leaving me stunned. I dashed off a note to him and he replied that he was heading to Dana Farber for treatment. This longtime columnist who was as decent a man as humanly possible, will be missed, not only for his regular columns, but for his optimism and positivity, getting interviews with many people who were either not well-known to the rest of the community but should have been, or big shots who felt comfortable opening themselves up to this gentle, kind man. The pain ended for you on November 12, but for us — especially for his family and his beloved Merrimack Valley — that wound will always cause us pain. Rest in peace, my friend…]
As the dog said when he bit his tail, “This must be the end.”
After 50 years as a writer and photographer for The Haverhill Gazette, my career as a roving journalist has come to a staggering halt. In the interim, I’ve had the luxury of covering every beat possible.
My Almanac started in 1970 as a way of perhaps introducing some levity into the serious and often stoic world of journalism. Hopefully, I’ve made some small impact into your lives and perhaps an elusive smile here and there.
It was not my choice to concede but one made for me through my battle with terminal cancer. The future remained imminent, after being diagnosed eight months ago. Trust me, I gave it a good shot, hoping to turn despair into some semblance of encouragement.
My final week was spent in Nova Scotia with dear friends — a trip that was postponed once — and finally came to fruition. I shall take the good times with me to my final resting place, leaving the photos behind for others to enjoy.
The symptoms were insurmountable.
My appetite abandoned me almost entirely. Much as I tried, the sight of food made me nauseous. While others were dining on salmon and steak, the best I could do was a cracker and maybe some ice cream.
My condition weakened by the moment until finally I was counting the days to return home. It takes a good front not to alarm those around you. The last thing I would have ever wanted in a group of 50 tourists was a pity party.
Some pain and discomfort built up gradually to the point where my physical energy took an extreme hit. I was content just staying in my room with a good book but played the game. Hopefully, I left behind no telltale signs of remorse among my peers.
I have often been told by others that my career as a journalist and photographer became stagnated and stale. How untrue! Why would anybody spend a half century with one job, one paper?
My response to that comment would be, “Why not?” If you really love your work and your environment, why change? Working in the city where I have lived was a true complement. I was always there for my children and wife. Her job as a local schoolteacher ran parallel to mine.
Never a traffic jam. Not even a school bus. There’s something to be said for proximity. Even more to be said for building up a rapport with a loyal readership. I always considered Haverhill as my own personal Cheers bar. The stories simply manifested themselves on all fronts.
My association with the Armenian community here has been undeniable. Every stranger became a friend in waiting.
The wonderful years with The Gazette were also complemented by a similar passion with The Armenian Weekly and writers like William Saroyan who became my source of inspiration. I had the best of both worlds in the American and Armenian genre.
I cannot say enough for the work perpetuated by Alin Gregorian and the Mirror-Spectator who was always there for me, printing my stories. It was a pleasure serving as a correspondent for such a dedicated and responsible editor throughout these past two decades.
Over the last 20 years, my stories and photos made the rounds throughout other ethnic publications in the world which brought me added pleasure. My friends and associates throughout the medium stood right by me throughout these moments of turmoil. It’s the best lifeline any cancer victim can embrace.
As I get ready to take my final bow, I can only hope that God gives me just a little more time to welcome forth a photography exhibit I have opening October 23 at the Armenian Museum of America in Watertown. I’ll be collaborating with another photographer named Sona (Dulgarian) Gevorkian who is truly an impeccable artist with her camera.
Our work together will reflect images of Armenia both from the Eastern and Western extremes.
The final copies of a book, “The Armenians of Merrimack Valley,” co-authored with Haverhill High’s Phil Brown, will be inscribed for charity at a dinner-dance Oct. 22 by the Armenian Friends of America.
And finally, I opted to repeat the classes on obituary-writing at our Haverhill Citizens Center the first three Mondays in November beginning at 1 pm. It’s open to the public. In the event I’m still breathing, I will have fulfilled what I consider to be a long and productive life to which there have been few if any regrets.
I’ve had the pleasure of seeing a daughter inculcate a career as an editor and journalist, along with two Eagle Scout sons who have made their mark in mechanical engineering and marketing. That would not have been possible without the education they all received in our local public schools.
If I can leave you with anything, please do not take our community for granted and get the most out of it. What you do for yourself invariably dies with you. What you do for others lives on and forms legacies.
When troubles get you down, find your faith and give it a chance. It’ll be there waiting for you.