At far left, Uncle Lud Bedevian at Thanksgiving

Remembering My Uncle Lud

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By Ruth Bedevian

My Uncle Lud was larger than life. There is no other way to describe my father’s older brother than as a genuinely gifted, good man. He was born to survivors of the Hamidian massacres, Shahpaz and (Haji) Soghome Shahbazian. Lud emerged a beacon in the second-generation of Armenian-Americans who made valuable contributions and noteworthy achievements.

Lud Bedevian

Shahpaz was fond of German names and for whatever reason, he wanted his first-born son to be named Ludwig, quite an unusual name for an Armenian boy born in 1902. Perhaps Shahpaz had a premonition because Lud proved to be unusual – singular – superior – distinctive – extraordinary!

Lud was the pillar of the family in his mother’s eyes. Haji Soghome, the major breadwinner in the family, feared losing her ability to work as she advanced in age and illness. She depended on Lud who was very appreciative of her sacrifices and sensitive to her long suffering.

Haji Soghome had scrimped together a savings of $800. She gave the sum to Khoren, Lud’s older half-brother, to help him make a success of his small elastic braid manufacturing business. There were no other savings left to send Lud to college who so deserved higher education. However, by 1920 Lud had landed a job at the Hudson Dispatch (a newspaper that served Hudson County residents for more than 125 years and folded in the 1980s due to changing times). College would become a fading dream for this 18-year-old whose guardian angel had other plans for him.

A Career Begins to Blossom

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Boxing was at its height of popularity in these years and newspapers, magazines are radio generously informed the public. Lud drew upon his natural artistic talent, drawing a series of cartoons of the famous 1921 boxing fight between Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier. It made history, becoming the first fight to generate $1,000,000 in revenues. He submitted these caricatures to Jackie Farrell for approval to print and the rest is history. Two years later Farrell left the Dispatch to work for the New York Daily News and Lud was elevated to Farrell’s position as Sports Editor, a profession that he would keep for 56 successful years. Lud’s columns were unique among newspapers in the country because he accompanied his reporting with descriptive cartoons.

Some of the celebrities he encountered were yet to become celebrities. In charge of the Annual Golden Gloves Boxing Match that the newspaper sponsored (1937 to 1942), Lud refused an aspiring young singer an opportunity to sing the National Anthem at the opening events. He did so because the Hoboken youth worked as a paperboy for the rival newspaper, the Jersey Journal. That refusal did not discourage the young man. He, too, succeeded, singing his way to becoming a Hollywood legend as “’Ol’ Blue Eyes” – Frank Sinatra.

Lud was fortunate to have had the mentorship of the editor of the Hudson Dispatch, Haddon Ivins. He so respected him that in addition to naming his only son after Ivins, he dedicated his book, to him. Relief to Royalty is the authorized biography of James J. Braddock, a native son of Hudson County, who held the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship from 1935 through 1937. Braddock lost to Joe Louis in 1937 and Louis would keep the title for the next 12 years. Thus, Lud never made a windfall profit with his book.

He inscribed a copy for my father, writing, “To my ‘kid’ brother, Karney, in the hope that he, may yet write his book, too. Lud – August 24, 1936.” The Dispatch had published the book and donated unsold copies to the servicemen during WW II. Today it sells online at Amazon from $350 – $970!

Jeremy Schaap who authored Cinderella Man on which the 2005 motion picture of the same name was based, drew valuable and factual information from Relief to Royalty and included a photo of Lud in the book. With my cousin Haddon, Schapp visited Lud’s old home in Cliffside Park, knocked the door, introduced himself and asked the owners if they would allow entrance to see the attic where Lud had created an office to work on the book and where my Aunt Joey (Josephine) typed his manuscript.

A Loyal Servant

Characteristic of second-generation Armenian sons and daughters he was enriched by his heritage and appreciated it. Dedicated to the Armenian Church, he was among the godfathers of St. Vartan Cathedral in New York City in 1968 when Vasken Vehapar made his first visit to the USA for the Consecration. Lud received the St. Gregory medal from His Holiness, the highest honor for benevolence to the Armenian Church.

Holy Cross (Union City, NJ) was Lud’s home which he loved and where he served loyally his entire life. It was built in 1906 and is fondly referred to as the ‘mother’ church to its sister churches in New Jersey which were established in the coming years. Lud drove to Idlewild Airport (now JFK) in 1956 to greet and welcome the new parish priest who had come to serve at Holy Cross — Father Vatche Hovsepian (now Archbishop). The respect, love and friendship that flourished between Lud and Hayr Vatche during the ensuing years of the pastorate have transcended generations within our family.

Humor: His Hallmark

Gifted with intellect, artistic ability, eloquence and a generous heart, he was additionally gifted with a keen sense of humor and would capture and delight his audiences when he was called to be a master of ceremonies, a toastmaster or a keynote speaker at literally hundreds of banquets, dinners, and programs in the world of sports journalism and the Armenian-American community. I often quote him, “Humor will help you get through the rough times in life.”

Lud had an exceptional talent for retaining jokes and puns and could retell them with perfect timing. He often told the true story of how he forgot his car on the ferry, but the one I love to tell is the true story of the “Cookies.” Lud worked nights because the Dispatch was a morning paper. When he would come home in the wee hours of the morning, he would inevitably look in the refrigerator or the cupboard to snack on something. He was notorious for eating unorthodox combinations of foods. After one of these early morning binges, he said to Joey, “What kind of cookies did you buy? They’re very hard. Don’t buy them again.”

Joey was puzzled, “What cookies? I didn’t buy cookies.”

Curiosity sent Joey on a search to the pantry, “Oh, Lud! You ate these!? They’re dog biscuits!”

“Ha,” he quipped, “No wonder I was barking all night.”

Reciprocal Passion between Family and Friends

Lud and Joey were abundantly enriched with a wide circle of friends and acquaintances. People craved to be around Lud because it was guaranteed that he would transform the grumpiest face into a smile, if not a chuckle. In 1971, more than 800 people attended a banquet held at Schuetzen Park in North Bergen to honor him for his 50 years of service as sports editor of the Dispatch. He was inducted into the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame in 1981 and was one of the founders of the New Jersey Boxing Writers Association. At a Kiwanis Club ‘Man of the Year” award dinner in 1986, he concluded in his acceptance remarks, “I’ve had a wonderful life. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

Lud was also an avid book collector, especially acquiring books in the fields of sports, arts and Armenian culture. Lud took me to the Strand Bookstore in New York City the summer before I started college and invited me to select all the books I wanted. He bought them for me, saying, “Ruthie, if you get just one idea — one idea — from a book, it is worth all the money you spent on it.” He bought me a set of Encyclopedia Britannica; and he gave me his copy of Elements of Style, a classic bible for writers.

Lud was forever taking the family and friends out to dinner. Conversations and exchanges at the table continued as Lud would listen and sketch simultaneously making excellent caricatures. It was very common for him to give a person a paper napkin decorated with one’s likeness. His pencil and quick eye were always capturing and creating.

When his health began to fail and he could not go out, my mother, my children and I would visit him. After one of these visits, Mother remarked, “Oh how Lud just loves sitting at the head of his table in his home surrounded by his family and friends.”

That image of Lud that Mother so fully appreciated vividly describes the countless Thanksgivings at Uncle Lud and Aunt Joey’s home. The family gathered waiting for Lud who would be the last one to make his entrance because he covered the Emerson-Union Hill High School football game. A wide circle of cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends, (who otherwise  would find themselves alone on the holiday), joined Lud and Joey’s festive table. We feasted on the turkey of course, and a host of sides and trimmings including the Armenian treasures, Hajmom’s dzedzodz, boreg, and the kufta. Grandma Keshian, Joey’s mother who was an endeared member of their household, made the kufta. She made the best kufta. It is still Cousin Haddon’s favorite.

Lud Shahbazian garnered fame and admiration, never losing sight of his roots. He was a guiding light for me of intellectual sensitivity and tenderness towards people. Lud had a special place in his heart for Father Vahram Nazaretian. He had celebrated the sacrament of marriage for Lud and Josephine in 1925. Every year on their wedding anniversary Lud mailed Father Vahram a letter and enclosed a gift. He faithfully carried out this tender act of grace until Father Nazaretian’s lonely demise in Florida in 1980. I felt his sorrow as I watched him fold the letter that had carried the news.

Every Christmas following his ‘kid’ brother’s death, Lud (whose handwriting was becoming weaker and more illegible) wrote a Christmas check, remembering Alice. Karnig was gone, but Alice was tenderly remembered by her husband’s brother. Nothing can depict more clearly the deep affection Lud and Karnig shared than this gentle act of caring. Lud was a remarkable human being.

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My Uncle Lud rested in God in 1990. I feel his spirit encouraging me every day to find joy in learning, loving and living.

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