A CELEBRATION OF LIFE — DR. RAFFY A. HOVANESSIAN BY FLORENCE AVAKIAN
Posted on September. 29. 2022
NEW YORK, NY – He was larger than life – a man truly dedicated to his family, to his church, to his profession, to all whom he could help, and to his countrymen in Armenia, Artsagh and America. And he generously gave to all with complete love, devotion, humility and always with a smiling face, even when he himself was suffering.
He was Dr. Raffy A. Hovanessian who was born on August 16, 1938, and went to his heavenly rest on May 27, 2020 at age 81.
On Saturday September 10, more than 400 family, friends and admirers who had come from across this country and throughout the world, packed St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral for a solemn yet celebratory service extolling Raffy Hovanessian’s exemplary life.
When the more than a dozen clergy, including Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Pontifical Legate of the Armenian Church in Western Europe, Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian, Prelate of the Eastern Armenian Church, and Bishop Daniel Findikyan entered the Cathedral, the huge crowd stood quietly in reverence.
During the sacred Armenian Requiem Service, the legendary Armenian singer Onnik Dinkjian came before, faced the altar, and sang the soulful Gomidas Der Voghormia (Lord Have Mercy) with deep heartfelt emotion. He was accompanied on the organ by his son Ara Dinkjian who also accompanied the combined choir, from St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral and St. Armenian Illuminator Cathedral, conducted by choir director Khoren Mekanejian. Soloists were Anoush Barclay, Hasmik Mekanejian and Anahit Zakaryan.
‘A MAN OF ACTION WHO LIVED LIFE TO THE FULLEST’
Keynote speaker Archbishop Khajag Barsamian who had traveled from Rome, Italy, to honor his long-time close friend, in an impassioned and inspiring eulogy in both Armenian and English, recounted how Dr. Raffy, “a loved and admired man had fought the good fight, finished his race and always kept his profound faith throughout his life He was always a man of action with an active mind, an outgoing personality that took him all over the world with incredible energy, and drove him in every endeavor – in medicine, community service, philanthropy, the arts.”
He also lived a “life of consequence, grounded in a foundation that is stable, secure unshakeable in service to God, Christ and his church. This is what gave his life balance and conviction,” stated Archbishop Khajag. “It was his source of balance, conviction, strength, and energy. And it was the inspiration for the great power of love that flowed from Raffy’s heart and touched every one of us.”
And it was evident in his “love for his parents and heritage, for his wife Soghag – his precious partner in everything he did, his children and grandchildren, and his universe of friends from every walk of life. He was “a dear friend, a trusted advisor who always spoke from the heart on any matter with confidence, openness and total honesty. He was one of the most profoundly spiritual men I have every known, a man who felt God’s presence at the very center of his soul.”
Archbishop Khajag recounted Dr. Raffy’s great friendship with the late Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin I – “a bond of deep brotherhood. “He devoted the last decades of his life advancing Vehapar’s vision and spirit in our community. Raffy Hovanessian embodied the best in Armenian history and in the Armenian soul. It was Raffy’s conviction that the Armenian Church, with its ancient history, had something profound to teach the world of today, and he was one of those teachers.”
Archbishop Barsamian concluded his moving sermon with “prayers and love to dear Shoghag, and to the Hovanessian family’s children, grandchildren, brother and countless friends and companions,” and asked Dr. Raffi “to pray for us, Armenia and Artsagh. May my dear and close friend rest in heavenly lights.” Many in the church were seen wiping away tears.
MESSAGES FROM CHURCH LEADERS
The message of Vehapar Karekin II, read by Diocesan Vicar, Very Rev. Fr. Simeon Odabashian, paid tribute to Dr. Hovanessian as “a renowned physician who devoted his medical expertise and humanitarian compassion to the benefit of countless fellow Armenians – most notably in his fatherland of Armenia where his contributions greatly advanced the fields of medicine and medical education.” The Catholicos concluded with “prayers for, and consolation to his beloved wife Shoghag, children, grandchildren and countless relatives and friends.”
The letter from Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia Aram I, read by Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian, remembered Dr. Raffy Hovanessian as a gentle and highly devoted man “for whom the Armenian Church, nation, and homeland remained of supreme value He respected his circle and was respected by everybody without restrictions. This memorial event is eloquent testimony that he will keep on being the unforgettable and beloved Raffy for his family, friends and the multitudes who were fortunate to know him.”
Several family members and friends then presented loving remembrances of Dr. Raffy in loving tributes. Cousin Alex Yemenidjian, former Chairman & CEO of MGM Studios, who warmly welcomed the huge crowd, performed the role of master of ceremonies with dignity. He called Dr. Raffy a “role model and great teacher” for him, and for so many people.
MEMORIES NEVER TO BE FORGOTTEN
Brother of Dr. Raffy Hovanessian, Dr. Reuben Siraganian, an Emeritus Scientist at the National Institute of Health, lovingly remembered playing with 8-year old Raffy in Biskanta, a small village in Lebanon, at the foot of the 8600 foot mountain “who was racing ahead of me as he always did, paving the way for others to follow. Growing up, Raffy was very athletic, and participated in many sports, excelling in soccer and basketball, while at the American University of Beirut (AUB).”
Besides sports, Dr. Raffy also loved playing the violin, and listening to classical music, he continued. Both brothers were roommates at AUB where “Raffy had a strong work ethic, driving force and great memory for patients, family and those around him.”
Deeply involved in church activities, “Raffy did not distinguish between the two sides of the Armenian Apostolic Church, or the evangelical churches. The church fulfilled not only his spiritual needs, but also provided him with the person he would cherish for the rest of his life, his beloved wife Shoghag. They would spend 55 years together. She gave him strength and friendship, and stood by him especially in those last, hardest days of his illness. What is clear and endures is Raffy’s love of family. His spirit lives on in his children and grandchildren.”
Close family friend Zaven Khanjian, Executive Director and CEO of the Armenian Missionary Association of America, (AMAA), recounted how his and Dr. Raffy’s fathers “were two young, orphaned, handsome, bald Arapgertsies who grew up to be artisans and family heads of large families” and whose members regularly visited each other’s homes. “Raffy was an exceptionally brilliant student who skipped three classes and graduated from Aleppo College at age 16. His character and Christian values were solidified on the pews of the Armenian Evangelical Emmanuel Church Sunday School.”
In Beirut, Dr. Raffy with Bishop Karekin Sarkissian of the Great House of Cilicia who later became Vehapar Karekin I of All Armenians in Etchmiadzin, established the Armenian Church University Students’ Association (HEHOM) in 1963, fighting for the rights of Armenian students and students of all denominations to become members.
“For me, he has been a brother, friend, advisor, counselor and a man of God,” said Zaven Khanjian with obvious warmth.
Another close family friend, Professor of Medical Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s College of Medicine, Dr. Ara Tekian also spoke with great fondness of the sterling qualities of Dr. Raffy, especially his special caring for his family and his patients, and also for the many multitudes for whom he served with utmost patience, and respect.
Cousin, Dr. John Deirmenjian, at UCLA’s Psychiatry Department at the David Geffen School of Medicine, spoke of Dr. Raffy’s role in Indiana to establish and lead the Asian American Medical Society and aid both Armenian and non-Armenian doctors in finding job opportunities. In both Indiana and Chicago, Dr. Raffy helped establish the AGBU Center.
“Philanthropy was in Raffy’s blood,” he said. “He was a team player, always consulting with Shoghag, and working together on many charitable events. After the Armenian earthquake, they worked nonstop to raise funds and mobilized the entire Chicago community. Raffy also organized fund-raIsing events for U.S. politicians from both parties who supported Armenian causes.”
Dr. Deirmenjian related that as the private physician to Vehapar Karekin I, Dr. Raffy had a close and trusted friendship. And in his private life, he deeply loved his family, having yearly celebrations with his grandchildren called the “Medzbaba Camp”. “Respect, love, and spiritual values were the foundations for a blessed family.”
For Raffy, “the glass was always full, the future always bright with no unresolved issues. He was an eternal optimist which was infectious. May we all embrace that treasure and continue his remarkable legacy,” he stated with emotion.
Dr. Raffy’s personal physician at New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Dr. Paul Paik expressed gratitude for his seven year friendship and caring with Dr. Raffi and Shoghag. “Suffering produces perseverance which produces character which produces hope. I will remember Dr. Hovanessian who navigated his suffering with grace, whose faith was encapsulated in his last words to me – ‘I am ready to go to Jesus.’ I know that he is home now, snd I know that we will see him again.”
NEVER TO BE FORGOTTEN WISDOM – LOVE AND RESPECT
The children and grandchildren of Dr. Raffi and Shoghag – Chief of Radiology at Desert Springs Hospital Dr. Armen Hovanessian, Partner at Wilkie, Farr and Gallagher, LLP Ani Hovanessian, Esq., and Agopian Inc./Art Advisor Aileen Agopian presented unforgettable remembrances. Foremost was that “FAMILY is everything.”
“He gave and helped to all unstintingly, and always with his typically HUMBLE manner,” conveyed Armen. “Obsessively punctual, he was a man of his word, and taught us the value of being trustworthy. Mentor to a vast number of people, he had the MIND of a teacher, the HEART of a healer, and the SOUL of a preacher. He felt a duty to help and serve.”
And as the long-time, well trained wife of a doctor, their mother Shoghag would give her advice whenever Dr. Raffy was unavailable, said Aileen, adding that the “focus on education and being the best in your field was primary. Education is Power. He was always on the cutting edge.” And he made “each person feel like the most important person in the room.”
Even as a “fierce risk-taker, Dad was always dressed in his suit, tie and his beloved, conventional Florsheim shoes,” revealed Ani. Displaying Dr. Raffy’s joyous side, she described how he loved telling jokes, playing cards, dancing with his family, singing Armenian and historic songs, and getting groups to sing at parties and regaling stories.” In the last days of his life, as his family surrounded him, and decided to think of a family motto, each member “tried to capture the essence of our family. Dad went last and he said without hesitation. It’s quite simple – LOVE AND RESPECT.”
Eldest grandson Ara Kasparian. Associate at Northern Trust, enumerated “Medzbaba’s. Legacy” in a few choice thoughts. “The most valuable gift he gave was his time and his love of family life. I am the luckiest grandson in the world!”
A LIFE FULFILLED IN HIS OWN WORDS
A powerfully revealing video of Dr. Raffy’s life, with his heartfelt words enumerated the highlights of his life in his own words – his birth in Jerusalem, his life with his hardworking and religious parents in Aleppo, his education at AUB and other universities where he excelled, his life in the church, and his unbounding love for his family, patients, and all who sought his help and advice.
Dr. Raffy’s face especially lit up when he paid tribute to his life partner, wife Shoghag. “I had gone to church during Vartanantz and a girl came and stood in front of me. I knew this is the girl. Of course, she was beautiful, tall and elegant. For the first and only time in my life, I waited after church to have a nice and good look at her and see if someone knows her. Her name is one that has always been romantic to me – Shoghag.”
Since Armenia’s independence, Dr. Raffy A. Hovanessian “has been one of the staunch advocates of Continuing Medical Education (CME) of healthcare professionals in Armenia. Recently under the banner of the AAHPO, he initiated a new project – the CME for doctors and nurses in Artsagh, and he designated the Fund for Armenian Relief (FAR) to implement it.” The Dr. Raffy Hovanessian Education Fund has been established at FAR by the Hovanessian Family.
Following the inspiring church service, the Diocesan Kavookjian Hall came alive as all in attendance continued their remembrances of Dr. Raffy during a lavish dinner. The event had been carefully planned and organized by the Hovanessian family.
The evening’s tribute which reflected the love of all who knew and loved Dr. Raffy was eloquently written by his15 year-old youngest grandchild, Alessandra Victoria Agopian:
“My Medzbaba is a legacy within himself
Shining and bright like God’s crafted stars
The gift of his love and his care for those
Who were both blood or not, lives on forever.
This is my Medzbaba”