Thomas M. Vartabedian, an award-winning Haverhill Gazette writer-photographer for 50 years and Armenian community activist, died Saturday, Nov. 12, with his family by his side following a battle with cancer. He was 76.
Vartabedian joined The Gazette as a sportswriter in 1966 when it was a daily newspaper and extended his career to include feature stories, pictures, news events and his Poor Tom’s Almanac column, which began in 1970 and continued in retirement up until his death.
Through his tenure, Vartabedian won a number of awards and accolades, including that of Master Reporter by the New England Press Association. One of the other more notable awards was the American Cancer Society’s Sword of Hope Award, joined by several more from the Associated Press and United Press International over the course of his 40-year, full-time career at The Gazette.
After being diagnosed with gastro-intestinal cancer in February, Vartabedian fought his illness by bringing hope to others with a series of columns, as well as through a show on Haverhill Community Television and participating in the 2016 American Cancer Society Relay for Life in Haverhill, where he sponsored a team called Ararat, named after a biblical mountain in Armenia.
He also garnered national attention for an obituary writing class he launched last spring at the Haverhill Council on Aging, inspiring others to write their life’s story before they passed.
Vartabedian was active in Armenian affairs as a member of the Armenian Genocide Education Committee of Merrimack Valley, which took him to high schools throughout the Merrimack Valley and Greater Boston teaching students about the genocide and human rights. The committee was recognized this past April by special resolution by Gov. Charlie Baker and the Massachusetts Statehouse.
He was also an active member of the Armenian Genocide Commemorative Committee of Merrimack Valley and the Armenian Genocide Monument Committee, which erected an imposing memorial in Lowell in tribute to the 1.5 million victims of the 1915 genocide. Vartabedian was a charter member of St. Gregory Armenian Church, North Andover, where he taught Armenian School for 45 years, and served on the board of trustees for 20 years. He had just recently joined the church choir, and was a delegate to the National Representative Assembly.
The Armenian Eastern Prelacy presented Vartabedian with its Eagle Award, the highest award rendered for service to church and community. He had been a columnist and correspondent for 50 years with The Armenian Weekly, where he also compiled and edited special issues covering the annual Armenian Youth Federation Olympic Games for more than four decades.
He was a 50-year member of the Lowell “Aharonian” Committee, Armenian Revolutionary Federation of America, serving as its chairman for many years.
The Armenian Students Association honored Vartabedian with its Haig Garabedian Sarafian Award for distinguished committee service.
Over the past seven years, he served on the board of directors for Project SAVE Armenian Photograph Archives, which recognized him with a community commitment award last fall.
Most recently, he was honored in October by the Armenian Friends of America in recognition of his service to the Armenians of the Merrimack Valley. He was scheduled in December to receive the Armenian National Committee’s Vahan Cardashian Award in recognition of his lifetime of service to Armenian causes during a banquet in Washington, D.C.
Vartabedian served as a Merit Badge Council with the area’s Lone Tree Council, Boy Scouts of America, which presented him with a Distinguished Citizen Award. Another proud Scouting moment was watching two sons attain the coveted rank of Eagle and introduce their own children to the organization’s ideals.
As a 50-year member of the Haverhill YMCA, Vartabedian won many gold medals in state racquetball competitions for his age class. He enjoyed mountain climbing and upheld the challenge of reaching the summits of the tallest peaks in New England, including Mount Washington six times.
As an active member and judge of the former Kenoza Camera Club, he was inducted as a master photographer with the New England Camera Club Council. One of his last acts of charity was donating his vast camera collection to the photography department at Haverhill High School, complemented by a series of motivational talks to students.
Just prior to the cancer diagnosis, Vartabedian collaborated with Haverhill historian E. Philip Brown in co-authoring a book titled “The Armenians of Merrimack Valley.” In recognition of the Armenian Genocide Centennial last year, he exhibited his photo collections on Armenia at 12 different libraries throughout the community, highlighting two trips made in 2006 and 2011.
A summer camp in Sandown, New Hampshire, on the shores of Angle Pond, served as a personal retreat since 1970, where he enjoyed sailing, fishing and the comfort of his family.
He was born in Somerville, Sept. 30, 1940, son of the late Edward K. and Jennie S. Vartabedian, both survivors of the Armenian genocide. He graduated from Somerville High School in 1958 and majored in journalism at Boston University, studying a year abroad at an Armenian Catholic monastery in Vienna, Austria.
He served five years with the United States Army Reserves while attached to the 351st Hospital Battalion.
He had been a resident of Haverhill for the past 51 years, following his marriage to his wife, Nancy G. (Yeghoian), a retired Haverhill schoolteacher.
In addition to his wife, he leaves three children, Sonya G. Vartabedian Sico and her husband, Pasquale, of Amesbury; Ara M. and his wife, Julie, of Hudson; and Raffi P. and his wife, Sarah, of Auburn; six grandchildren, Maya, Benjamin, Rocco, Rex, Mazie and Mila Vartabedian; and several nieces, nephews and cousins. He was predeceased by his younger brother, Edward C. Vartabedian.
Calling hours are Friday, Nov. 18, from 3 to 8 p.m. at St. Gregory Armenian Church, 158 Main St., North Andover. His funeral service takes place Saturday, Nov. 19, at 11 a.m., at St. Gregory Armenian Church, 158 Main St., North Andover, followed by burial in Linwood Cemetery, Haverhill.
Memorial contributions may be made to St. Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church for a special project in his memory, 158 Main St., North Andover, MA 01845; City of Haverhill for the Tom Vartabedian Memorial Scholarship Fund for Haverhill High School graduates pursuing a career in journalism or photography, c/o Tracy Parker, Haverhill High School, 137 Monument St., Haverhill, MA 01832; or to Project SAVE, 65 Main St., Watertown, MA 02472.
Arrangements are by H.L. Farmer & Sons Funeral Homes, Haverhill & Bradford.