By John Hughes ArmeniaNow editor
She was born in Smyrna, and he in nearby Kasaba, at the dawn of a century that would soon bring defining tragedy to their people. She migrated with her family to New York in 1915. He followed, alone, five years later, a 19 year old with $50 and hopes that a relative’s prediction “You’ll do well,” would be true.
They met in New York, where they married in 1930. Death separated them 63 years later; she died in 1993 and he followed her to the grave in 1996, in Detroit, where he had become one of the most successful businessmen in his adopted country.
Today, side by side, Alex Manoogian and Marie Tatian Manoogian were lowered into the hallowed ground of the Mother See of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Holy Echmiadzin, reburied far from where they died but, say family, where their spirits are most alive.
At 10:47 this morning, following a 24-minute Church-State funeral rite, Richard Manoogian and Louise Manoogian Simone, sprinkled soil consecrated by His Holiness Catholicos Karekin II into the new graves of their parents, then 13 men in white shirts and black ties secured the matching almond-colored caskets into the rain-softened ground under a rose-orange khachkar and somber Armenian clouds a few meters from the Pontifical Residence.
From Smyrna to New York, to Detroit, to Holy Echmiadzin, more than a century since their births and a decade after death, the Manoogians received a final blessing by His Holiness, who praised their devotion to education and to Diaspora relations.
Richard Manoogian called today’s reburial of his parents “a pilgrimage . . . that symbolized for us the shining path that always directed toward the ancient soil of Armenia.”
None, except holy men, Catholicoi, have been laid in these grounds.
For the family patriarch, Alex Manoogian, it is the only time he has been in Armenia since the republic gained independence in 1991. His wife first came here in 1955 to serve in the delegation that elected Vazgen I as Catholicos. School children lined the way to the gravesite, laying red and white carnations in the path that passed blossoming pomegranate trees planted by the Catholicos that Marie Manoogian helped enthrone.
Throughout Armenia and Diaspora, whether on Karabakh streets or Australian schoolhouses the Manoogian name has become synonymous with philanthropy – most often through association with the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU), which Alex Manoogian joined in the 1930s and served as president from 1953-89, until he was succeeded by his daughter.
His body rests, now, near one such building that holds the family name, the Alex and Marie Manoogian Treasury House Museum at Holy Echmiadzin of which, for its dedication in 1982, Alex Manoogian said: “For me it had always been a dream to be able to add my brick to the building of the homeland.”
He was the son of a grain salesman whose devotion was to the Church. Alex Manoogian became a deacon before pursing his dream of American success. And when his financial dream was realized, he turned his good fortune into building Armenian schools, but while always saying that the Church was the most important institution.
In his early 20s Alex Manoogian held 10 jobs over seven years – sometimes two at a time. By 1927, he was making $20 a week, and left the East Coast for Detroit because he heard workers there were getting $25.
He was fired from the first three jobs he had in Detroit. But by 1930 he had founded MASCO, a company that made parts for the auto industry. The company grew into the largest building products company in the world and from it his wealth would grow – surviving, even, the Great Depression – to allow him to eventually donate more than $90 million to the Armenian Apostolic Church and to cultural and educational causes.
In 1993 Alex Manoogian was named a National Hero of Armenia by President Levon Ter-Petrosyan. Poor health prevented him from receiving the award in person, but his daughter said it was her father’s proudest moment.
Today Louise Manoogian Simone said her parents “have started a new era in their lives”.
And perhaps completed another, forecast 25 years ago when Alex Manoogian inaugurated the museum on the grounds he and his wife’s remains now share:
“Here, on this blood-soaked and incense filled fragment of our Homeland, the wandering spirit of the Diaspora Armenian shakes off all its burdens, discards its alien garbs, and like a purified ray of light bows to kiss the stones where the Only Begotten Himself descended and where the restless feet of our forebears trod,” he said in 1982. “The Armenian emigrant for centuries has constructed palaces and churches, schools and institutions, but the only testimonials that remain from those structures and their bustling activities, from Singapore to India and from Indonesia to Poland, are the solitary gravestones. It is only that which is erected on Armenian soil that remains forever; only on that soil does the Armenian Church dome toll vibrantly alongside the Cross-stones.”