As I explored the myriad of projects AGBU supported—and its documented transparency—I realized I had found an organization that offered us the chance to contribute to social concerns that we cared about, particularly Armenia and women’s issues. Once we decide to focus our efforts on a program, we donate to it annually,” says Pamela.
Not everyone is born with activism in their DNA, not to mention a legacy of strong women persevering through the toughest of times. Pamela Barsam Brown has been championing political, environmental and minority issues for decades. Her mother, Sybil, and maternal grandmother, Jennie Melcon, were both politically engaged. Jennie considered Eleanor Roosevelt to be an extraordinary role model, and even had a photo with her while attending a Los Angeles rally. But perhaps the most outstanding example of strength was Pamela’s maternal great grandmother, Haighanoosh Abdalian, who, through the US State Department, filed a case against the Turkish government and received compensation for the murder of her husband in Gurun, her own imprisonment and other charges.
While Pamela is a fourth-generation Armenian-American on her mother’s side, she is first generation from her father Harry’s side, who was the only Barsamian to attend college. He and Sybil met at an Armenian social event in California, falling in love instantly. Unfortunately, a heart attack took his life at 43, leaving his young widow to assume financial responsibility for herself and three-year old Pamela.
Despite this tragedy, Pamela remembers a lovely childhood, adding, “When I was 13, my mom grabbed a dream and purchased us around-the-world tickets.” The months-long experience was transformative. California was the nesting spot for her entire family, but she knew she would spread her wings elsewhere. Upon graduating from college, she spent an entire year in Africa and Europe.
After earning her Master of Arts degree from George Washington University, she felt Washington, D.C., was where she belonged. She taught in underprivileged areas, and started attending political events, which is how she met her husband, Stan Brown, a PhD chemist. They moved to Maryland in 1972, and then New Jersey. Travel never took a back seat—they have been everywhere; their first adventure together was a camping trip across Tibet to visit Buddhist monasteries. She adds, “I feel very lucky and grateful that he provided the support and encouragement necessary for me to take on a lifetime of advocacy work dedicated to my local communities and my heritage.”
Pamela happened to meet Jirair Hovnanian at an Armenian Assembly of America (AAA) event after her mother’s passing. He asked her to co-chair the NJ AAA. She later became the sole chair, and resigned only when Stan retired and they moved to Boulder, Colorado, in 2004.
In her newly adopted city, Pamela founded the Rocky Mountain Hye Advocates group, which engages the community and lobbies federally and locally. Pamela was asked to chair the AAA Colorado branch, doing so for several years, and secured the entire Colorado State Delegation’s support on the Armenian Genocide resolution.
LaRae Orullian, an accomplished and pioneer female banker, as well as Pamela’s fellow Hye Advocates board member, remarks, “Pamela is quick to follow through on the things to which she is committed, such as family, the Armenian community, and political themes that support fairness, equality, individual rights, the arts, educational opportunities and health issues. She truly makes an impact and a difference in our community.”
A consistent and dedicated AGBU donor, Pamela continues to provide financial gifts to the organization’s Women Empowerment Program, Fund for Artsakh, and Humanitarian Emergency Relief Fund for Syrian-Armenians, and always supports other AGBU funds where need is greatest. She mentions that AGBU came to her attention through an aunt and uncle by marriage—Dr. and Mrs. Samuel Haig Jameson, who had established a substantial endowment at AGBU for scholarship assistance. Their trust in the organization inspired her: “I had been looking for an avenue for philanthropy and recalled their involvement and dedication to AGBU. As I explored the myriad of projects AGBU supported—and its documented transparency—I realized I had found an organization that offered us the chance to contribute to social concerns that we cared about, particularly Armenia and women’s issues. Once we decide to focus our efforts on a program, we donate to it annually,” says Pamela.