On Saturday, June 14, 2008 at the Ararat Massis Cemetery, a few yards away from the monument of the Armenian hero he loved so much, Soghomon Tehlirian, we said our final goodbyes and buried a great educator, organizational and party leader, and a strong advocate for Armenian causes, Unger Richard Shirag Darmanian. On that day, after the church and internment services, many people including A.R.F. leaders, organizational representatives, His grace Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian, Prelate of our Western Prelacy, even Congressman Jim Costa of the U.S. Congress in Washington DC, all eloquently presented the biography of Richard Darmanian, his years of service in public education and the Armenian Community, his character, and the legacy he left us with his 60 years of community service.
After the internment service, during the memorial dinner, I tried to express my thoughts about my Unger too. I started to speak, but not being able to control my grief and my emotions, I concluded quickly.
Each of us in our lifetime develop friendships acquaintances, relatives, and loved ones. Some of us are fortunate to combine all these in one and call that person Unger. (The Armenian word for friend that means so much more) I was very happy, proud and honored, and will be until my last day on earth, to have Richard as a “modig unger”, close friend. While I was searching for words to describe my Unger, I remembered an old Armenian song written by Ashough Chivan titled “ungeruh”, The Friend, that we had learned when we were scouts and badanis. I felt like the talented troubadour had written this song because he must have known Richard so well. I would like to share a few of the verses:
“The good, handsome, and moral friend of a person
helps shine, like the sun, the picture of the person.
When a man has a trusted friend near him,
the dark night of the person passes as a bright day.
The wise, God-fearing, true friend of a person
raises higher the level of the person.
When enemies march towards him,
The brave and true friend of the person is his sword;”
For 52 long years, not only we were close “Ungers” but we worked together, served the same church, same political ideology of ARF, the Armenian community in general, through organizational committees and task forces. We spent hundreds of hours in innumerable meetings working on Prelacy schools, Prelacy matters, political issues, etc. During these meetings I always observed him closely and learned a lot from him. I learned how to listen, be patient, and be calm, how to reason, and how to facilitate meetings, how to make sure everyone participated in decision making. During these long years of friendship and working together closely my Unger “made my picture shine” and “raised my level” with his unrelenting hard work, advice, wisdom, great power of reasoning, his good nature and character, he helped me become a better person. During all these difficult meetings, where tempers flared occasionally, I never heard him use a bad word, or make a derogatory remark to anyone. I never saw him get upset, nervous, or angry. He was always calm, cool and collected. At the conclusion of a long and difficult discussion, we would all wait to hear what Richard had to say.
As we traveled back and forth to Los Angeles for the Education Council, and later the Board of Regents meetings, the countless hours in the automobile became unforgettable and happy memories. Not very many people knew that Richard loved our musical heritage. He knew many songs, and he loved to sing them with his beautiful tenor voice. He would always say, “Meher, sing a song”, I would replay, “only if you sing with me,” he would say, “you start, I’ll follow you.” Whether he knew the song or not he would pick up the melody right away, and sing with me. Many times he would say, “Sing from the Badarak.” Of course, he knew the entire mass well. All those night hours on highway 99 “would pass like the daylight hours.”
At the end of December 1991, when I was asked to go to Armenia representing our Education Council, I was the principal of Ahwahnee Middle School in Fresno. As the trip would last 4 to 5 weeks, I asked my Unger if he would come to our school and spend a few hours to make sure everything ran’smoothly. With his experience and background, I knew he would be fine. Of course, he accepted with pleasure. Upon my return 5 weeks later at the first staff meeting everyone raved about Mr. Darmanian. They said they had heard about him, and knew of him, but they did not know “what a nice man and a gentleman he was.” That night when I spoke to him he said, “you had the school very well organized, I am proud of you.” Those few words meant more to me than a thousand word resolutions and other recognitions. In our 52 years of friendship he “made my picture shine” and “raised my level.”
I cannot conclude this tribute to my Unger without expressing my love, respect, and admiration for Armon. With her baptismal name of Armenouhie, Armon was Richard’s friend, partner, and love of his life for over 58 years. Their true love for each other, their dedication and trust, how seriously they considered their vows, their dedication to their children made them a couple that many of us looked up to as role models. Armon was Richard’s guardian angel until the last moment.
My dear Unger Shirag, I am sure that when you read these lines under your heavenly lights, you are going to say, “ays deghan khentatser eh, inch krer eh askan”, “this guy has gone nuts, why did he write this much.” But, I want you to know that I can write volumes about your wisdom, humbleness, humility and impeccable character. Someday, when we meet we will talk more;.
May God keep you in His Heavenly Kingdom my dear Unger;