Cecile Keshishian

Obituary: Cecile Keshishian, Dedicated to Community Activism

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LOS ANGELES — Cecile Keshishian, known for her passion and activism for both the Armenian community and those less fortunate, died from pneumonia on May 27, 2024 in Los Angeles.

Keshishian, née Simonian, was born on April 30, 1934 in Antioch, Turkey, and grew up in Beirut, Lebanon. Her parents were both survivors of the Armenian Genocide. She was the second of their four children.

The family planned to relocate to Armenia after World War II. But the transport ship sank before arriving in Beirut, so the family stayed in Lebanon.

For her secondary education, Cecile attended the Melkonian Educational Institute, a boarding school in Cyprus. She was a star basketball player, a medical volunteer, a student leader and one of four teenagers chosen to represent Cyprus at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in England in 1953.

After graduating from Melkonian, she returned to Beirut and began work as an executive assistant at Canada Dry International at a time when the company was expanding into the Middle East. In her spare time, she was a founder and early leader of the Girl Scouts movement in Beirut. During this same time, she met and became engaged to Dr. Kevork Keshishian. They married on October 1, 1960.

Both of the couple’s children, Alek and Aleen, were born in Beirut. In 1968, the young family moved to the United States, settling first in Brookline, Mass., and later in Manchester, NH, where Dr. Keshishian worked as a board-certified radiologist.

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In Manchester, Cecile completed her college education at Notre Dame College, graduating magna cum laude with a double degree in business and American history.

She served as president of the volunteer organization Catholic Medical Center Hospital Associates, which had 600 members. Later she served as president of the New Hampshire Medical Auxiliary.  She was a founder of the New Hampshire Good Samaritans Suicide Prevention Hotline and a board member of the American Children’s Theatre.

Dr. and Mrs. Keshishian regularly opened their Manchester home to friends, relatives, and newly arrived immigrants for months at a time. Cecile helped find lodging, furniture, jobs and schools for immigrants she knew and for some she was meeting for the first time. She also taught Armenian language and history to her own children and to other young Armenians in New England.

She was fluent in five languages — Armenian, French, Arabic, Turkish and English.

In 2005, Cecile received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, which celebrates American citizens who distinguish themselves and make a profound impact in the lives of others. Past honorees have included Ronald Reagan, Muhammad Ali, Sandra Day O’Connor, Rosa Parks, and Hillary Clinton.

Throughout their 58-year marriage, Cecile and her husband were leaders in Armenian-American organizations and causes, including the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) and the Armenian International Women’s Association (AIWA), among others. They helped fund a student center at the American University of Armenia. The facility was named in their honor. On the occasion of its opening, Cecile Keshishian told students: “Take advantage of your incredible blessings and get the most out of your education, both inside and outside the classroom. I am 88 years old and still continue to learn something new daily — learning keeps one young. Knowledge is power.”

In 2000, she and her husband moved to Los Angeles to be closer to their children, filmmaker Alek and talent manager Aleen; their attorney son-in-law Kit Troyer; and their grandchildren Lulu and Jesse Troyer. Cecile was enormously proud of them for their character and accomplishments, especially that all five were graduates or current students at Harvard University.

Cecile’s beloved husband died in 2018. She is survived by her brother Dr. Simon Simonian, sisters Rita Balian and Annie Totah, her nieces and nephews along with their spouses and children, her son Alek Keshishian and daughter Aleen Keshishian, her son-in-law Kit Troyer, and her granddaughter Lulu Troyer and grandson Jesse Troyer.

The memorial service in her honor will be held on Tuesday, June 4, at 3 p.m. at St. Leon Armenian Cathedral, 3325 N. Glenoaks Blvd., Burbank. The service will be immediately followed by a reception at the same location.  Mrs. Keshishian believed people should wear color in celebration of life and therefore attendees are welcome to dress colorfully in her honor.

In lieu of flowers, the family has established a memorial fund in her name at the Armenian General Benevolent Union. Contributions may be made at agbu.org/memory-cecile-keshishian or mailed to: AGBU, 55 East 59th St., New York, NY 10022, with “Cecile Keshishian” on the check’s memo line.

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