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    William Aznavourian

The Bedrock of the Providence

William Aznavourian

Bill was an extremely kindhearted and generous man, whose often unsolicited and unrecognized support of AGBU was extraordinary. He carried the respect and love of so many of us. From a personal standpoint, he was very encouraging and supportive of our goals and vision for the New England District.

In his later years, William Aznavourian spent his time visiting shelters in Providence, Rhode Island, stocking up on food entirely on his own and donating it in the name of the church. This selflessness and generosity were qualities that defined William—known to his friends and family as Bill—and led him to become the bedrock of the Armenian community of Providence.

Bill was a native of Providence, born in 1931 to Vahram and Beatrice (née Shishmanian) Aznavourian, who had arrived from Constantinople only ten years earlier. Bill and his older brother, Garo, had an all-American childhood, in boy scout troops and on football and soccer teams all throughout school, but they were also instilled with an undying devotion to their Armenian heritage. The focal point of their community life was the local Saints Sahag and Mesrob Armenian Church, which Bill attended faithfully all throughout his life.

Bill did not leave his hometown after high school. He stayed in Providence to attend the prestigious Brown University, majoring in chemical engineering and graduating in 1953. He moved away from Providence for the first time after college when he was conscripted into the army after graduation. He was stationed in Aberdeen, Maryland at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds and, much to the relief of his family, never saw combat. Instead, he put his chemical engineering degree to use by working with a team of chemists to improve the gas mask for the military.

Upon his honorable discharge, he moved to Utica, New York to work at General Electric before returning to Providence to care for his mother after his father passed away in 1962. Devoted to his family above all else, his nieces, Karen Cannuscio and Kristine Danelz, and his nephew, Mark Aznavourian, knew him to be a typical fun-loving uncle, but always with his characteristic kindness: “Uncle Bill and I had a long-running obsession with Devil Dogs, the cake-like desserts filled with cream. Once Uncle Bill learned I liked them, they were added to the big bag of chocolate bars he would bring on his visits to our house in Connecticut. Even as I grew up and went off to college, in an area that had no Devil Dogs, he would send them to me in a small care package. There was no note, but I knew who they were from,” said Kristine. After his brother died in 1992, Bill became even closer to his nieces and nephew with frequent telephone calls to check in.

After he retired at the age of 54, Bill turned his attention almost exclusively to the Armenian community, serving as the head of the Parish Council at his childhood church, as a highranking member of the Knights of Vartan and as the chair of the AGBU Providence chapter, which reaped the benefits of his longstanding commitment. In 2011, AGBU honored Bill for his 45 years of dedication and bestowed on him the status of AGBU Honorary Member. Until his death, Bill would send handwritten fundraising appeals to each member of the AGBU Providence chapter to support the organization’s programs near and far. “Bill was an extremely kindhearted and generous man, whose often unsolicited and unrecognized support of AGBU was extraordinary. He carried the respect and love of so many of us. From a personal standpoint, he was very encouraging and supportive of our goals and vision for the New England District,” said AGBU New England District chair Ara J. Balikian.

When he was not fundraising for AGBU, spending time with friends at his weekly backgammon nights or performing random acts of kindness, Bill liked to commune with nature. “He would often drive up to his cabin in Maine to hike. He loved being outdoors, even back home in Providence. He would always lovingly tend to his vegetable garden in his backyard, talking to all his plants as he watered them,” said his nephew Mark, a screenwriter who has written a character based on his uncle with many of his endearing idiosyncrasies.

When Bill passed away in November 2016, he left $50,000 to AGBU to continue the programs that he had given so much of his life to supporting. “Bill was generous to everyone around him, except for himself. It is only fitting that his generosity would continue on into the future.”

September 01, 2017