Vartan Gregorian was an icon in higher education and philanthropy—and a giant in my life.
From his childhood in Iran, to his studies at Stanford, to his unparalleled leadership of the New York Public Library, Brown University, and the Carnegie Corporation, his influence spanned borders and generations. A Ford Foundation fellowship brought Vartan to Stanford—and I’m endlessly grateful that, many years later, Vartan helped bring me home to the Ford Foundation.
I first met Vartan Gregorian a quarter century ago while working at the Abyssinian Development Corporation in Harlem. He was a great friend of my boss, Rev. Calvin Butts, III and extended his friendship to me. Vartan was a consummate connector, a link in the chain from each of us to the other, and from the past to the future.
When I first contemplated a move to the Rockefeller Foundation, I sought out his counsel and, for the past two decades, he’s been a wise and generous mentor—offering me advice, coaching me for interviews with the Ford presidential search committee, introducing me to countless people who have gone on to become friends and colleagues. I will miss visiting his book-filled office for coffee or tea, surrounded by the variety and voraciousness of his intellectual interests and pursuits.
Vartan earned his wisdom with his full, consequential life and shared it freely, with a full heart. As an immigrant, like Andrew Carnegie before him, Vartan understood what it was like to see America through the eyes of an outsider; as an ardent student and teacher, he was passionate about the transformative power of education. Together, all of this and more, shaped his story, career, and legacy—and helped him shape the world for the better.
For each of us, if we had one wish—one prayer, even—it would be to lead the sort of life that Vartan did, replete with radiant brilliance and love. Vartan was a blessing to me and to everyone who knew him. May his memory be a blessing, too.