Vartan Gregorian, who led the Carnegie Corporation of New York for more than two decades, revitalized The New York Public Library during the 1980s, and served as president of Brown University, died suddenly on April 15 at age 87. He had been hospitalized for testing due to stomach pain, according to the Carnegie Corporation.
“Vartan Gregorian served the Corporation for 24 years as an extraordinary leader and a devoted steward of Andrew Carnegie’s legacy,” Thomas H. Kean, chair of the Carnegie Corporation of New York board of trustees and former governor of New Jersey, said via a statement. “We will remember him most for his immense intellect, his thoughtful generosity, his witty, learned, and sly sense of humor, and his uncanny ability to both inspire and challenge each of us to do our utmost to advance the Corporation’s mission above all else. He was a man of the world who inspired the world.”
Born to Armenian parents in Tabriz, Iran, Gregorian received his secondary education at the Collège Arménien in Beirut, Lebanon. He moved to California to attend Stanford University, where he majored in history and the humanities, graduating with honors in 1958. He was awarded a Ph.D. from Stanford and wrote his thesis on traditionalism and modernism in Afghanistan. His research formed the basis of his first book, The Emergence of Modern Afghanistan: Politics of Reform and Modernization, 1880–1946, which remains the only broad work on Afghan history that considers ethnicity rather than religion as the defining influence. His personal story is detailed in his 2003 autobiography, The Road to Home: My Life and Times.
Gregorian joined the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania in 1972 after teaching European and Middle Eastern history at San Francisco State College, the University of California at Los Angeles, and the University of Texas at Austin. He was appointed the founding dean of the faculty of arts and sciences two years later, and rose to become the school’s 23rd provost. It was during his tenure at Penn when Gregorian became a U.S. citizen.
Gregorian became president of The New York Public Library in 1981 at a time when drastic cuts to funding and services threatened the institution. He responded by forming a public-private partnership that raised $327 million and restored the library as an intellectual, scholarly, and cultural repository for the nation.
In 1989, Gregorian returned to academia as the president of Brown University, and once again revitalized a financially distressed institution. While cultivating an environment dedicated to inquiry and the liberal arts, he ran a capital campaign that doubled the university’s endowment, raising over $500 million, and brought in 275 new faculty members, including 72 professors.
Gregorian became the 12th president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York in 1997. He inaugurated the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy in 2001 to honor philanthropists worldwide who dedicated their private wealth to the public good. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in and the National Humanities Medal from President Bill Clinton. President Barack Obama appointed him to the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships. He served on numerous boards, including the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, Brandeis University, the Institute for Advanced Study, and Human Rights Watch.
In 2015, Gregorian co-founded the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative, which was created on behalf of survivors of the Armenian Genocide and seeks to address some of the world’s most pressing issues.
Gregorian was predeceased by his wife, Clare Russell Gregorian. He is survived by three sons, Vahé Gregorian and his wife Cindy Billhartz Gregorian of Kansas City, Mo.; Raffi Gregorian of New York, N.Y.; and Dareh Gregorian and his wife Maggie Haberman Gregorian of Brooklyn. He is also survived by five grandchildren, Juan; Maximus; Sophie; Miri, and Dashiell; and, a sister, Ojik Arakelian, of Massachusetts and Iran.
For more information, including photos and videos, visit The Carnegie Corporation of New York’s online tribute to Gregorian.