Obituary: Norman Pashoian: Elegant Doorman at Boston Hotel for 66 Years

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By Bryan Marquard

BOSTON (Boston Globe) — Soft-spoken and discreet, impeccably dressed on the job and off, Norman Pashoian opened the door of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel to politicians and powerbrokers, actors and musicians, Brahmins and those buoyed by fortunes of a more recent vintage.

He greeted visitors for 66 years, steadfast at his post as the Ritz became the Taj, until he retired at 85. Along the way, he unobtrusively became Boston’s most famous doorman and a Back Bay institution. “I just do my job, try to be polite, and never — well, almost never — get into arguments with guests,” he said quietly in 1997, his 50th anniversary at work, as he stood in one of the city’s most elegant entryways.

Pashoian was 89 when he died May 26 in Melrose-Wakefield Hospital of complications from congestive heart failure. His affinity for continuity was as apparent at home as it was at work. He held one job his whole adult life. And except for a brief stint in the Army, he lived in Malden his entire life.

The list of those with whom he exchanged small talk could fill a set of encyclopedias. He greeted Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, fresh from the baseball diamond. Joseph Kennedy Sr. and his son John F. Kennedy passed through the door Pashoian held open, planning campaigns, perhaps. He welcomed the musical collaborators Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, too, and stepped nimbly aside when movie star Gene Autry rode his horse into the lobby. During a visit by Elizabeth Taylor, he carried her two dozen bags inside.

Pashoian had his favorites, of course — chief among them his hero, Winston Churchill, who stayed at the Ritz in 1949 while in town to deliver a speech. He watched Churchill stand on the steps of a dining room staircase, flashing a V for victory with one hand, and clasping a cigar with the other. “Here I was, just in my early 20s, and I was seeing someone as famous as Churchill,” Pashoian told the Globe in 2013, on his last day as a doorman. “I was amazed.”

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He never spoke with Churchill, who came and went with an entourage of bodyguards, but for many regulars, Pashoian was more just than a helping hand at the door. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis addressed him by name as they greeted each another. She was, he recalled, a “beautiful, well-dressed, very humble, very gracious lady.”

Switch the gender and that description could have been applied to Pashoian. “My father was a quiet person,” said his son David of Dracut, one of Pashoian’s four children. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard him raise his voice in the house. I’m serious when I say that. There was no doubt he was a humble person, and he always taught us to be humble in life.”

At home, as at work, Pashoian “was always a caring person. If you ever needed anything, he was there. He was your support. He always said, ‘Everything’s going to be OK,’” David recalled.

Former Boston mayor Kevin White was fond of Pashoian, whose counsel he sometimes sought after a tough day running the city. White “would go in and have a glass of wine,” the mayor’s former press secretary George Regan told the Globe in 2013. “He spent good days there, but mostly bad days, and after a horrible day Norman would greet him and give him a big hug.”

Pashoian “could be having the worst day in the world, but he was always the perfect greeter — smiling, gentle, compassionate,” added Regan, who is now president of Regan Communications Group. “He could have been working at Buckingham Palace.”

Norman E. Pashoian Jr. grew up in Malden in an Armenian family, a son of immigrants. His mother, the former Takouhy Sarkisian, was known as “Queenie” and had lived in an orphanage after her family died during the Armenian Genocide.

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Pashoian’s father, Norman Sr., and an uncle ran a neighborhood grocery store, which they closed during the Great Depression, when customers could no longer pay their bills.

Even in youth, Pashoian had a taste for sartorial flair. His children were at first mystified to hear he had been a Boy Scout. “I said to my Uncle Eddie, ‘Why would dad join the Boy Scouts? He’d never go camping,’” recalled his son Norman III of Great Falls, Va. “Uncle Ed said, ‘Well, Norm, he loved the uniform. That’s why he joined.’”

He added that his father “would have made a good CIA agent, that’s for sure. In many cases, I learned a lot of information about my father from my uncle, but I learned it 30 or 40 years later.”

Early on at Malden High School, Pashoian hurt his knee badly playing football — an injury that would later curtail his Army service. He couldn’t play sports again until he was a senior and joined the hockey team. He graduated in 1946 and started working at the Ritz on August 4, 1947.

Three years later, he met Claire LeVangie, who worked at the Joseph Antell ladies’ shoe store across Newbury Street from the hotel. Some days she stopped to talk after work. Other times, she slipped love notes into his spiffy Ford convertible. They married in 1954. “If I hadn’t worked at the Ritz, I never would have met her,” he said in 2013 of Claire, who died in 2005. “I courted her for four years, and you don’t do that for just any girl.”

In addition to his sons Norman III and David, Pashoian leaves another son, Mark of Melrose; a daughter, Lisa Pashoian-Cook of Beverly; two brothers, Edward of Malden and Warren of Lynn; and 10 grandchildren.

A funeral Mass was said at St. Joseph Church in Malden. An urn with his ashes was placed in a niche, next to his wife’s urn, in Holy Cross Cemetery in Malden.

Pashoian was devoted to his wife, who “was a beach nut,” their daughter said, so family vacations often were a series of daytrips to Gloucester’s Wingaersheek Beach. In later years, Pashoian and his wife traveled to Caribbean islands, where he could golf.

Outside of family and work, his passions were golf, nice cars, and fine clothing. For decades, he was a member of the Gannon Municipal Golf Course in Lynn, where he was still playing rounds last summer, at 88. He owned a series of fancy cars, most recently, a SLK350 Mercedes-Benz. As for what he wore, “we grew up in a middle-class life in Malden, but you wouldn’t know it, looking at my dad,” his daughter said. “He appreciated the finer things when it came to clothing.”

On his last day at the Taj, Pashoian allowed himself a moment to mourn the decline of elegance. “Nowadays, you can come into a hotel with a knapsack on your back, wearing ripped jeans and sneakers,” he said. “I’ve always liked the old days, when people knew how to dress and always showed up well-groomed and well-tailored.”

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