By V. Sonig Kradjian
I had the serendipitous good fortune to meet former US president William Jefferson Clinton during my visit as a guest to the Clinton Foundation’s annual gala in New York City in March 2015.
Once a year, a big fundraising gala night is organized, at which wealthy philanthropists who believe in the foundation’s mission and accomplishments contribute generously. There is also a lottery for lesser supporters. The winner is invited — all expenses paid – to attend the smorgasbord of activities the foundation holds in order to acquaint donors with its work, which includes efforts at reducing childhood obesity; improving the quality of students’ meals; helping small farms in Africa; providing drugs to almost 10 million AIDs patients; and launching reforestation initiatives in many countries. According to published reports, the foundation has more than 3,100 commitments in action improving more than 430 million lives around the world. It has pledged more than $36 million in support to Haiti (several million of which has been allotted to a reforestation initiative that’s being carried out in tandem with Yunus Social Business Haiti and Virgin Unite), and more than 75 million people across the United States have benefitted from its investments in disease prevention.
This year, I and my life partner, Dr. Ernest M. Barsamian, were the lucky winners of the lottery and were invited to attend the gala and to meet President Clinton and his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Unfortunately, Ernest could not attend, so he suggested that I invite my friend Mrs. Nada Lal, of Endicott, NY, who gladly accepted and joined me. During my visit, I made a point to speak of my Armenian heritage, which seemed particularly appropriate, as it was just one month before the centennial of the Armenian Genocide.
First, on March 8, I went to Mr. Clinton’s offices, both in Harlem and mid-Manhattan. There, I learned quite a bit about American history. We were greeted and guided by Amy
Kuhn, the former president’s manager of correspondence. Later in the day, I had the pleasure of talking with Tina Flournoy, Mr. Clinton’s chief of staff, as well as with other personnel. It is truly exciting to learn about the daily routine of the former president and all the various matters he cares about and attends to. His office in Harlem, which will be converted into a museum in the future, is full of memorabilia, souvenirs and gifts from leaders of the world and close friends, who are all history makers.