It is with deep sorrow that the Providence Kristapor Gomideh announces the passing of one of its most beloved ungers. Unger Melkon “Mal” Varadian, a 60-year member of the ARF Kristapor Gomidehoutiun, passed on Sunday August 5, 2012. The wake for Unger Varadian will take place on Wednesday August 8, from 4-8 p.m. at the Sts. Vartanantz church, 402 Broadway, Providence, RI. The Funeral will take at Sts. Vartanantz Church on Thursday August 9, at 11 a.m.
PROVIDENCE, R.I.—This past Sunday morning, the news of the loss of Melkon “Mal” Varadian passed through this old factory town like a raging fire in the woods that have been scorched by the sun for months. He was known as Sam to some, Josie to others, Mr. Mal, the General, Uncle Mal, and UngerMal. I called him “the boss.” Below are words from one of the many e-mails that came a day later, from Peter Boranian, for the gentleman this entire community and nation grew to love and respect, whether they were his contemporaries or just starting out serving the church or the organizations.
When you look up the word “mentor,” there should be a picture of Mal. A man who led by example right up to the minutes before God took him to be at peace with his wife Zabelle and three brothers, and so many others that made this community what it is today.
When his wife took ill a few years back, Mal should have moved into the hospital and then the nursing home to save on the travel time. He was always there no matter the time or day. He would exercise near where she is buried on a regular basis and would always make a point to stop in and say hi to her. He often said that he could hear her say to him, You better come by and see me or else. It wasn’t her threat that made him go. It’s called love.
Love that he bestowed upon his entire family, and that was no easy task with a family of that size. But he had an even larger family here in Providence and beyond. He cared for so many and how they would make things better than when they first started on a job. One story that comes to mind is when Markar “Max” Der Vartan Kassabian was thinking of becoming a priest. Mal was driving near the cemetery, where most the Armenians are laid to rest, and saw him waiting at a bus stop. He offered Max a ride and asked, “What do you want to do with your life?” Max answered, “Uncle Mal, I want to be a priest.” So the process began. Mal would pick him up every Sunday and after Max would drop Mal back off at the Public St. Market, which Mal owned, Max would take Mal’s car to Whitinsville to train for his calling. Not too many people knew of this. That was Mal’s way.
He was very uncomfortable being honored or called to attention. This past April, the Armenian National Committee (ANC) of Rhode Island wanted to honor him at the annual flag raising in his home city of Cranston, but he declined. He said, “There are others that deserve this more than me” and went on to say, “maybe next year.”
When my dad passed away a few years back, Mal called and offered his advice. It was so soothing and comforting. I knew all would go well at that point, and it did right up until I thanked him for putting on another great Hokejash dinner at the church.
I spent many a Friday night with him and his family at his table at “Pizza night.” After a long and busy week, it was the perfect way to just sit back and simmer a bit. He would sit and listen most of the night, but when he spoke all eyes were on him.
As recently as a few weeks ago he was speaking to the counselors at Camp Haiastan and told them how 60 years ago, “we built this place.”
“All you need to do is take care of it and make it better,” he said.
When I woke the day after, I had to convince myself that there wouldn’t be any more “Pizza nights” at his home, no one to meet with before or after the bazaar or picnic to make sure everything was in order, no one to tell how the AYF was doing or how our Olympic team would fare this year. But most of all, no one I could lean on when times were tough.
Oftentimes I would quote him. When something like what happened this week would shake this community off its foundation, Mal would say, these three simple words: “This is life.”
I’m left with this when it comes to Mal. He was stern yet fair. He would listen and let you try and even fail. But he would never say, “I told you so” if you were wrong. He would offer his hand and pick you up if you had fallen. He had the experience and knowledge of 100 people, but was never afraid to say that he was wrong.
Mike, Sandra, and Malcolm (Butchy), his grandchildren, and all the other family members: Thanks for sharing this legend with so many of us. He lives in all of you today and so many of us that were blessed to spend time with him.
I’m running low on tissues writing this heart-wrenching note. I’ll end with one of Mal’s favorite lines, which appears in the Mess Hall at Camp Haiastan in nearby Franklin, Mass.: “Make it better than when you first came.”
Rest in Peace Mal. “Job very well done.”
The following e-mail was received from a close friend of Mal’s, Peter Boranian:
The news of Mal’s passing was very difficult for the countless numbers of those who knew and loved him. I can say this humble hard-working gentleman with a heart of gold who gave his love to his family, friends, and his church community through his countless hours of service will be missed.
Mal was the leader of the “Kitchen Brigade” teaching all what dedication was and showing all how to perform the various duties of that station. We used to sit for hours listening to him. His knowledge guided us through the 20-plus years that I was fortunate enough to work with him. “Ask Mal” was heard whenever a problem arose, and invariably he provided the solution.
The same could be said for his diligence at the Annual Martyrs Memorial event. How he loved the beautiful monument that he had personally worked so hard to build. Mal was always complimenting everyone for their labors in every event. He never sought compliments from others, and when he was given even a simple thanks, he would blush like it wasn’t deserved.
He was a true leader in every sense of the word with a personality that was both charming and true to the receiver. In the case of the late Der Vartan, he made certain that Der Hayr was given the opportunity to pursue his calling. There are countless among us who owe this great man a tribute for being there for us.
I will miss his unique laugh that warmed my heart whenever we spoke. Mal loved to hear stories from those who were in his presence. Several of his would kid about one another, and he would laugh heartily. The next time we met, Mal would bring up what was said at the previous meeting, and we would all laugh. War stories would be told including some from Mal, and God bless him he never forgot the ending.
It is ironic that he passed away after the preparation was complete for the picnic. Leave it to Mal, he would never leave until the job was finished. His beautiful memory will bring tears at each and every event going forward: picnic, bazaar, Hokejash, Martyrs Memorial Event.
This community has lost a legend, a beautiful extraordinary man whose many years of service was phenomenal.
Rest in peace my beloved friend and teacher. God bless you for the gifts you gave to us.