FAR Hosts Memorial for Dr. Edgar Housepian



By Florence Avakian

NEW YORK — Dr. Edgar Housepian was legendary for his pioneering medical, humanitarian and compassionate works. A man who typified to the greatest extent the Hippocratic oath, he exemplified the best in humanity, and he performed these in his typically quiet, gentle and humble manner. On November 14, at age 86, Housepian died.

On February 14, more than 200 friends, colleagues and admirers came to St. Vartan Cathedral to pay their respects to his memory and vision, in a special tribute organized by the Fund for Armenian Relief (FAR). Primate of the Armenian Diocese (eastern) Archbishop Khajag Barsamian in his inspiring eulogy, related the enormous contributions of Housepian to the Armenian Church, the Republic of Armenia, and the American community.

Housepian, the Primate stated, was heir to a remarkable family tradition through his parents Dr. Moses and Makrouhi Housepian who were “pioneers in humane outreach to our homeland in an earlier era. Their example inspired their son to excel in his profession, and to share his gifts with those less fortunate than himself.” And like his parents, he immediately volunteered his expertise when his countrymen faced the enormous tragedy of the 1988 earthquake in Armenia.

With “intrepid determination, Housepian joined the late Archbishop Torkom Manoogian and the late Kevork Hovnanian in creating the Fund for Armenian Relief following a “mission of mercy to our homeland just days after the tragedy,” related the Primate. “Even when the immediate crisis subsided, he was the “guiding light” in the effort to restructure the health care system in Armenia. Due to his legendary foresight, a new generation of Armenian physicians would enjoy opportunities for training and education undreamt of previously. His efforts made lasting improvements in the way people are cared for in Armenia. And here in America, he saved the lives of many who had never met him. He is an “example of the Armenian heritage at its best.”

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For his extraordinary service, Dr. Housepian was honored in 1992 as the Eastern Diocese’s “Armenian Church Member of the Year”, and in 2010 the Fund for Armenian Relief honored him as FAR marked the 20th anniversary of its relief work in Armenia.

Following the church memorial service, the large crowd gathered in Kavookjian Hall of the Armenian Diocese, for a memorial meal (hokejash), and tribute reception under the auspices of the Fund for Armenian Relief (FAR). Special guests attending the tribute were the Primate, Armenia’s Ambassador to the United Nations Zohrab Mnatsakanian, and FAR Board of Directors Chairman Randy Sapah-Gulian, Dr. Aram Chobanian and Prof. Annette Choolfaian.

The able Master of Ceremonies, Dr. Tavit Najarian, in his welcoming message paid tribute to the “legacy and selfless devotion of my friend, my confidant and my cherished adviser Housepian who touched our lives in so many ways.” He introduced Dr. Aram Chobanian who with Housepian, “both professionally and intellectually were kindred spirits.”

Dr. Chobanian eloquently called his relationship as “friendship between mortals, and contemporaries in medicine.” He revealed that Housepian was involved in many projects in Armenia, besides that of the medical arena, all of which were “very effective”, including the National Library, the Children’s Nutrition Project, among others. “Early in his career, he went back to new approaches to Parkinson’s Disease, and brain areas which became the foundation for robotic surgery,” he said. Housepian wrote many scientific papers, and was the recipient of many honors, the most important being the Endowed Professorship in his name established by Columbia University.

Housepian “led a life of purpose”, said Dr. Chobanian, quoting the legendary poet Robert Burns, and extolled his extraordinary personal qualities, including humility, modesty, respect, thoughtfulness, integrity, and his dry sense of humor. He was a consummate physician and a superb role model,” he declared.

Annette Choolfaian, a medical manager at several American medical institutions, worked “with great resolve” with Housepian to bring young medical professionals from Armenia to America “to hone their skills at various hospitals here, said Dr. Najarian in his introduction.

With obvious emotion, Choolfaian recalled the 20 years of “good times where we did major things in Armenia. Though Housepian was a man of few words, he was never afraid to confront the truth. We have an empty seat at the table, but he will always be with us,” she said in tear-filled choked voice.

A video depicted many charming facets of Dr. Housepian’s life. His father was born in Kessab, Syria, fought with the resistance in Zeitoun, went to Alexandria, Egypt where he worked in burlesque as a song and dance man, and in 1900, came to the US, where he studied medicine, and “delivered most of the Armenians at that time.” Marrying, the elder Dr. Housepian and his wife Makrouhi had two children Edgar, and Marjorie who became a well-known author.

As a youth, Dr. Edgar Housepian desired to be a flyer, and thus joined the Naval Air Force. Following his service, he studied medicine on the GI Bill, became an eminent neuro surgeon, authoring more than 100 books and articles, and receiving numerous awards, including the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. “The greatest pride and joy” of Dr. Edgar and his wife Marion who preceded him in death by exactly one year, were their three children, sons Steven and David, and daughter Jean.

With a light-hearted manner, and using a series of family slides, Steven revealed his father’s playfulness (trying to make a parachute out of the shower curtain), teaching five-year olds a CPR course in their house basement, driving an old 1972 Pontiac Lamont convertible, hugging all his children’s friends after two martinis, and loving Peter Sellars and Peter Lorre (his favorite film being Casablanca). “He was an up and coming neuro-surgeon who liked a good time, a man of many hats,” said Steven with emotion. “His most powerful trait was integrity which you cannot teach”, he declared with emphasis.

Jean, a registered nurse, quietly called her father, the “best dad and granddad in the world. He shaped me. He was the glue that kept the family together all over the world, and one of the smartest people, with a great memory.” Their family, she said, was truly a Houseful of Love, quoting the book title of her aunt, Marjorie Housepian Dobkin. She related her father’s love of jazz, photography and his embracing of other cultures. “He was a true New Yorker, who taught us to treat all with respect, and do the right thing, not the easy thing. He always said talk less and listen more.”

David, in his tribute, spoke contemplatively about his memories. “He taught us that life is what you make it. It’s about the ride, not the destination.” He then read the poem, IF, his father’s favorite. Then with a special quietness, he revealed that after his father’s death, the three children sat around a blazing fire for hours, not saying a word, each in his or her special thoughts.

Closing the inspiring memorial, Dr. Najarian called Housepian “a remarkable individual in the true sense of the word, a renaissance man both professionally and intellectually. Through his activities at FAR, he touched the lives of so many, both here in the states, and in Armenia. And he did so with his typically modest and dignified mien.” Then quoting the great Samuel Taylor Coleridge, with the words, He is the best physician who is the most ingenious inspirer of hope, he noted in conclusion, “this pretty much defines Dr. Edgar Housepian.”

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