Celebrating a Noble and Gentle Armenian

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By Nubar Dorian

The wars, wounds, suffering and strife followed by the Armenian Genocide forced many millions and more survivors to seek food and shelter in other lands. The US has been the ideal refuge and Armenians were able to reach these blessed shores to take advantage of all the opportunities available to them. Though helpless and friendless, they were able to prove their noble character, studiousness and determination to become ideal citizens in this blessed land. When they raised their voices to sing God Bless America, theirs is the loudest and their plea to God made with every fiber of their being.

Such an American Armenian is Richard Hekemian of New Jersey, a gentle man who is highly successful in his field, an outstanding philanthropist and humble to the extreme. He is chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Hekemian & Company, Inc., located in the prestigious Hekemian Building. He is also the chairman and CEO of First Real Estate Trust, a publicly-traded real estate company conceived by Sam Hekemian, his late father. This company, I believe, has more Armenian shareholders than any other publicly-traded company, just like his son, was an exemplary American citizen, always proud of being Armenian and helping all Armenian causes.

One of Robert’s big passions has been education, which led him to Bergen Community College of New Jersey to try to help students who were unable to meet the high cost of higher education. This activity was so close to his heart that he gave a great deal of time, talent and funds in helping this community college become one of the best two-year colleges in New Jersey, with more than 15,000 students per semester. He was elected to serve as the director of the college’s Board of Directors from 1988 to 1993 and thereafter continues to serve as director emeritus. Last year the foundation recognized Robert’s “Meritorious Service” by presenting him the annual Medallion Award at a dinner attended by more than 400 Who’s Who in New Jersey names in education, politics, business, federal and state officials.

The New York and New Jersey Armenian community is indeed extremely proud to see the “Hekemian” name emblazoned on a wing at Hackensack University Medical Center. He continues to give substantially and in a meaningful way is involved in this top university in New Jersey which is fifth in the US. No wonder this famous university which helps millions of patients each year, has recognized Robert’s leadership and elected him to be a member of the Board of Governors. He continues to serve in this prestigious position. It really is heartwarming and delightful to realize that a son of an Armenian has the honor to be a board member of this most prestigious hospital to help heal the sick, wounded, poor and the helpless.

Robert established the Robert and Mary Jane Hekemian Foundation some 20 years ago and has been actively contributing to many important Armenian and American projects and equally important, participating as well in their activities. In addition, he is a member of the board of directors of many famous banks and real estate companies.

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Among the organizations to which his foundation generously donates are the New York Philharmonic, the Boy Scouts of America and the YMCA. It is very important to note that Robert and his foundation help an untold number of individuals and institutions anonymously.

Robert Hekemian and the Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA) have been partners around the world to bring help, health, education and relief to Armenians in 27 countries worldwide. Robert strongly believes that the “M” in the AMAA stands for not a mission to convert Apostolic Church members to Evangelicals. The “M” for him, and the organization, stands for Mission to bring help and comfort to all Armenians who need relief from pain, suffering and seek education to succeed in life. This organization is simply a path keeper of their religious Christian beliefs and helps to direct the followers to live as noble American Armenians in America and Diaspora.

As to his contributions to the Armenian community, his heartfelt and loving service to Armenia and the diaspora have led him to become a guest of the Vazken, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of Armenians a happy and blessed memory. He is a full supporter of all Armenian good causes. He speaks with enthusiasm at the mention of Haygazian University of Lebanon where so many Armenian young men and women receive a first-rate education. The AMAA has made possible this university to be the first Armenian University abroad and continues to serve with excellent reputation and full accreditation.

He expresses deep sorrow and regret that the Armenian Presbyterian Church and the AMAA are often criticized for not being a “truly” Armenian entity. He constantly tries to point out that so many of us yield to the trivial and permit ourselves to be divided or misunderstood. We are, he says rightfully, one nation and worship one God in different fashions. This should not be cause for friction, division or discord. Instead, we all should try for God’s healing, uniting power and become “whole” for the sake of our existence as diaspora communities.

In the vineyard of our community around the world, and especially in the Homeland, there should be no doubt that all Armenians, be they Apostolic, Protestant, Catholic or even agnostic should keep faith with our identity and God willing live free and happy in our Homeland Armenia and communities all across the world.

(Nubar Dorian is a resident of New Jersey. He often writes about Armenian affairs.)

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