Gail Talanian O'Reilly

Armenian Assembly Honors Gail Talanian O’Reilly at Cambridge Tribute

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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — The Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) honored community leader and supporter Gail Talanian O’Reilly with its Distinguished Humanitarian Award on Thursday, May 19 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Despite the trepidation associated with in-person events during the era of the Covid pandemic, over 200 guests attended and reconnected. In fact, for many, it was the first time in two years that they attended such an event.

Gail Talanian O’Reilly receives the Armenian Assembly’s Distinguished Humanitarian Award. From left, Anthony Barsamian, Van Krikorian, Carolyn Mugar, Bryan Ardouny

The program was well run and fast moving, which is not always the case for Armenian banquets. Peter Koutoujian, Sheriff of Middlesex County, Mass., and a former member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, served as master of ceremonies with his usual aplomb and humor. He praised O’Reilly, with her charm, kindness, and compassion, as steady and strong in her leadership over many years.

Sheriff of Middlesex County Peter Koutoujian

“There are only a handful of people in my life, that when they take a position on an issue, when they support an initiative or an organization, I don’t have to think twice about it. …Moral compass — that is what Gail is for me, and I know for many of us here,” Koutoujian exclaimed to great applause. He added that Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and his own office have issued her official citations of recognition.

Assembly Life Trustee, board member, and banquet co-chair Lu Ann Ohanian welcomed guests and shared her longtime family ties to O’Reilly, as well as their devotion to Armenia, which is rooted in a 1991 Assembly trip. The experience led to O’Reilly and her husband Richard to become lifetime trustees and inspired O’Reilly to found Made in Armenia Direct (MIAD) in 2002, which hired creators of handmade crafts to preserve artistic traditions and provide jobs as these artisans sold their goods in the US.

Lu Ann Ohanian

“She has never forgotten who she is, where she came from and what she does,” said Ohanian. “She is a true Armenian, and she gives to other organizations as well.”

Judge Gabrielle Wolohojian

The accomplished Judge Gabrielle Wolohojian, Associate Justice on the Massachusetts Appeals court, focused on the theme of Armenians Americans in public service, and encouraged community members to become more involved. She highlighted the Armenian Assembly of America’s flagship Terjenian-Thomas Internship Program and how it taught her the opportunity to participate in public service in Washington, D.C. and see how government agencies work, particularly through her responsibility of studying how the Turkish government derailed the initial Hollywood film version of Franz Werfel’s novel The Forty Days of Musa Dagh.

Fr. Vasken Kouzoian

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Fr. Vasken Kouzouian of Holy Trinity Armenian Church in Cambridge, Mass., gave the invocation, and after dinner, keynote speaker Anthony Barsamian, co-chair of the Assembly Board of Trustees, delivered his remarks. Barsamian congratulated the Armenian community on its work towards achieving the US recognition of the Armenian Genocide, which in part reflects the growth and progress of the community itself. He recalled one indication of this, when the Rules Committee Chairman James McGovern of the US House of Representatives, a longtime friend, strategized a win in the House together with the leadership.

Anthony Barsamian

In addition to recognizing special guests in the audience, Barsamian called attention to the Armenian Assembly staff who traveled from Washington, DC and New York City to attend the banquet. He spoke about the foundation and history of the Armenian Assembly, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and how it continues to work on behalf of Armenia and Armenians.

“Our job is to be the center of the community at all times,” said Barsamian, who called on attendees to think about a strategic future for Armenia and its diaspora. He also warned of the current dangers afflicting Armenia and the potential divide in the diaspora, and called for unity of purpose.

Barsamian recalled his first encounter with the Talanian family, which exemplified their kindness and hospitality towards fellow Armenians. As a student, he arrived in Boston looking for an apartment, but had no luck until he saw the Talanian name at the entrance to a realty office. He explained his situation to Gail O’Reilly’s father, who immediately turned to his son Charles and instructed him to show 11 Marlborough Street, an apartment in a fancy neighborhood across the street from Ted Kennedy’s residence.

Following his remarks, Barsamian invited Assembly Board of Trustees president Carolyn Mugar, co-chair Van Krikorian, and Assembly executive director Bryan Ardouny to the stage to present the Distinguished Humanitarian Award to O’Reilly.

Van Krikorian at podium, with Anthony Barsamian and Carolyn Mugar

Krikorian concurred with the high praise bestowed upon O’Reilly during the program and thanked her for her contributions and accomplishments. Mugar then reminisced about the closeness of her family and the Talanians – in fact, her father was born in Nevart Talanian’s father Nishan Semonian’s house in Kharpert and to the end of his life felt very close to the latter.

Speaking then about O’Reilly herself, Mugar exclaimed: “Look, this is what Gail really is. Gail has a lot of guts. She will get something done. If she has to do something, she will ask the hard questions of someone and she will make sure that it happens. I have a huge amount of respect for Gail.” She concluded by saying warmly, “I love you a lot Gail, and you know it.”

Gail Talanian O’Reilly

O’Reilly then was called to the podium. She declared that she truly appreciated the honor of the award and the audience for its support of the Assembly. She acknowledged all the people around her starting with her husband Richard, who helped make her achievements possible.

O’Reilly related that years ago, when she was involved as a Winchester Town Hall member and as the Membership Chair of the Massachusetts League of Women Voters, her father asked her why she did not help her own people, but she had no answer. She didn’t know how she could help Armenia, until her 1991 trip to Armenia with the Assembly. She emphasized that the trip changed her life and gave her the vision and an idea of how to create a thriving Armenia and help its people succeed.

The Vernissage, the open-air market in Yerevan, had drawn her with its creatively crafted products, and this gave her the idea for Made in Armenia Direct. Many of her friends helped her both transport products from Armenia to the US and tools back to Armenia. O’Reilly concluded by announcing that there now is a female owner of MIAD, which has over thirty craftsmen who have been working with the organization for close to twenty years.

Gail Talanian O’Reilly

O’Reilly was born in the Boston neighborhood of Dorchester to Nevart and Charles Talanian, while her grandparents originated in the Kharpert and Husenig regions of Western Armenia. After public school, Gail graduated from Colby Junior College and Tufts University to become a kindergarten teacher. Many years later she entered her family’s real estate business. She became actively involved with the Winchester League of Women Voters and later the Massachusetts League of Women Voters as a statewide leader, working to build membership, activism and financial stability.

She recognized the humanitarian crisis created by the Armenian earthquake of 1988, and after her first 1991 trip to Armenia she went on to take many more trips, as well as to visit her grandparents’ ancestral regions. To help Armenian artisans, she founded Made in Armenia Direct (MIAD) in 2002. Gail and her husband were also early supporters of the Armenian Tree Project founded by Carolyn Mugar in 1994 to reforest Armenia and in the process also create countless jobs.

She is a Life Trustee of the Assembly and has served in various positions on its Board, including as Vice Chair, Treasurer, Development Chair and Endowment Chair. Gail received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor in 2011 in recognition of her decades of service to the Armenia people.

One thoughtful touch at the end of the banquet was that in addition to an informative banquet booklet, each guest received a Made in Armenia (MIAD) favor donated by O’Reilly and her husband. The guests also enjoyed music during the pre-banquet reception by oud virtuoso Mal Barsamian and Bruce Gigarjian on guitar.

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