Jimmy Tashjian Personified Armenian Journalism

When it came to the integrity of news, the clarity of language and the dedication to getting at the truth, James H. Tashjian had no superiors in the newspaper world. He was a scholar, youth advisor, friend, mentor, and AYF trailblazer rolled into one. He was the man who plucked me out of obscurity and pointed me to maturity. As a result, I owe him not just my job as a newsman but my life as a conscientious Armenian. He made all that possible. It is with a heavy heart and fond recollection that I mourn his death. The Armenian community has lost a dedicated servant who embodied every nuance of journalism. My association with him dates back 45 years when I was a scribe for the Somerville Nejdeh AYF Chapter. I had reported on a basketball game and my writing was crude. I remember climbing the endless steps of that old Hairenik building at 212 Stuart Street in Boston to the third floor where Jimmy’s office was located. It was a vantage point for young aspiring journalists like myself a pedestal which produced such great writers as the prodigious William Saroyan. The place was bustling with such venerable folks as Jimmy Mandalian and Roupen Darpinian, a community of tapping typewriter keys, glue pots, cigar smoke and organizations that whirred with activity. As dingy and outdated as the institution was, it was rock solid and it was home. He glanced over that basketball write-up and threw a compliment my way. One by-line led to another and a career was launched. Many more trips followed to that sacred office of his. Jimmy’s desk always drew a curious glance, packed to the rafters with books and papers. I would comment on that "clutter."The sign of a busy mind is a busy desk," he told me. "An empty desk belongs to an empty mind." Jimmy was a master of platitudes, recognized for his quips and casual one-liners, spicing the humor with a dash of satire. He would sit at that congested desk, sleeves rolled up halfway to his elbows, chain-smoking cigars, laboring over other people’s copy, mine included, for better or worse. Then, finished, he would sit and talk–a conversation that hopped and skipped like a Mexican jumping bean, from the thick deli sandwiches at Jacob Werth’s to the sanctified Harvard-Yale football game, the grave situation in Armenia and the grim political climate in America. What set him apart from most of his contemporaries was his ability to laugh at himself. Jimmy Tashjian was a crusader who lived and worked to entertain and inform his readers. He was good company with his incredibly broad knowledge. At age 16, he entered his pantheon as sports editor of the Hairenik Weekly. After returning from service with the U.S. Armed Forces following the turbulent years of World War II, he accepted an editorship with The Armenian Review, then in short order, joint editorship with James Mandalian of the Hairenik Weekly–a job he held for more than three decades, longer than any predecessor or successor. To this day, I don’t know what the "H" stood for in his middle name but I suspect it’s for Hell-bent–one who remained stubbornly determined and going full speed. That was Jimmy’s trademark. The good old days wouldn’t be so old if more people lived them. Anyone gazing at the Hairenik during those halcyon years of the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s discovered an inimitable face to the journal, one that gave the Armenian communities direction and identity. Because space was at a premium and correspondence heavy, he spent half his time putting articles into the paper and the other half keeping things out. His tutelage was mightier than the pen, striving to teach young Armenia’s like myself not to make a living at journalism per se, but to make a life. My professor taught me well. "Newspapers," he often agreed, "are nothing more than circulating libraries with high blood pressure." How well we both found that out. Lo the ubiquitous Armenian. Who could ever forget his time-honored Bostonian columns written with a true Harvardian flare? The fact he was a Harvard graduate never gave him a superiority complex. The doctorate he had received was seldom mentioned in a prefix. He preferred to be "one of the guys." Jimmy didn’t establish priorities. He didn’t have time. His face was his numerous columns and editorials, always setting out to do 10 times as good by doing 10 times as much. He was fueled by a heady mixture of ambition and an insatiable appetite for the powers of language. His pieces jolted the reader, honest and heartfelt. Jimmy gave the Hairenik a pulse. My professor had guts, wisdom and integrity. He didn’t have patience for elitism, bigotry, hypocrisy or undue flattery. His vision was always for the common good. People of all persuasions were his confidants and sought his good judgment and wise counsel. He slept with the news, lived with the news and stayed on top of the news. When Jimmy left the Hairenik in 1976, the cadence stopped. You can take the newsman out of the newsroom but you can never take the soul out of journalism. That part of it remained steadfast to his dying day. He laid out the foundation. Others built upon it. His spirit will continue to dominate what he often called the Armenian Valhalla. We last met this past summer at Caf Anoush in Watertown. He was seated at a table with his wife Virginia and I joined him. But I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. Others repeatedly intervened to say hello and wish him well. I finally broke the news about my pending retirement–a career that also spanned 40 years. He looked at me and laughed. Retirement? "Anyone who looks forward to retirement soon finds himself doing dishes three times a day and all those other household obligations instead of fishing seven times a week." A point well taken, my friend. "Maybe I’ll just retire and not tell my wife," I said kiddingly. He smiled and took my hand. "Well done," he replied. "Just one piece of advice. Don’t just sit around and look bored. Keep busy." I thank you Jimmy. The Hairenik thanks you. The boys from Lowell thank you. We all thank you from the bottom of our hearts. May God bless you and keep you in his own Valhalla.


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