Vartan Gregorian, the noted scholar and philanthropic leader who has led the Carnegie Corporation of New York since 1997, died Thursday after being hospitalized for stomach pain. He was 87.
“The Corporation has lost a devoted and tireless leader — an extraordinary champion of education, immigration, and international peace and security, and steward of Andrew Carnegie’s legacy,” the philanthropic group wrote in a statement on its website Friday. “We, his colleagues, have lost a mentor, an inspiration, and, for so many, a very dear friend.”
Born to Armenian parents in Tabriz, Iran, Gregorian arrived in America in 1956 to study history and the humanities at Stanford University, even though he had only a limited grasp of English. His quest to understand the relationship between the individual and society at large began there, a pursuit that continued as he led The New York Public Library, Brown University and the Carnegie Corporation. In 2004, President George W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom the nation’s highest civil award.
“I know it’s a cliché to say ‘only in America,’ but in my case, that is the truth,” Gregorian said in his commencement address at Stanford in 2006. “I’m still convinced that while America is not perfect, it is still perfectible.”
Author of The Road to Home: My Life and Times; Islam: A Mosaic, Not a Monolith; and The Emergence of Modern Afghanistan, 1880-1946, Gregorian was hailed around the world as a historian and a philanthropist. He received awards from the French, Italian, Austrian, and Portuguese governments, as well as numerous honorary degrees, including from Brown, Dartmouth, the Juilliard School, the University of Aberdeen and the University of St. Andrews.
Gregorian’s American immigrant experience also inspired his life work. In 1986, he was part of the inaugural class awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor that also included Muhammad Ali, Walter Cronkite and Donald J. Trump.
“America invested in me and saw me as a citizen,” Gregorian wrote in 2018 to commemorate July 4 for the Carnegie Corporation. “It is a debt that I can never fully repay, though I have tried.”
Gregorian is survived by his sons Vahé Gregorian and his wife Cindy Billhartz Gregorian of Kansas City, Missouri; Raffi Gregorian of New York; and Dareh Gregorian and his wife Maggie Haberman Gregorian of Brooklyn, New York. He is also survived by five grandchildren—Juan, Maximus, Sophie, Miri, and Dashiell—and a sister, Ojik Arakelian, of Massachusetts and Iran.
Clare Russell Gregorian, his wife of 58 years, died in 2018 after a lengthy struggle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.