By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
Two prominent Armenian-Americans were recently honored with exceptional accolades, making Armenians proud of their accomplishments.
In July, the US Navy announced that a future guided-missile destroyer will bear the name of Paul Ignatius (Iknadosian), the highest ranking Armenian-American official in the Federal Government. He served for eight years in the presidential administrations of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson as Assistant Secretary of the Army, Undersecretary of the Army, Assistant Secretary of Defense, and finally in 1967, Secretary of the Navy.
Last week, a new superior court building in Long Beach, California, was named after Governor George Deukmejian. The official dedication ceremony of the $339 million court complex took place on November 21.
Gov. Deukmejian served the State of California with distinction for 28 years. After narrowly winning his first election as governor in 1982, he was reelected in a landslide in 1986. Earlier, he had served for four years as Attorney General (1979-83), twelve years as State Senator (1967-1979) and Senate Majority Leader (1969), and four years as Assemblyman (1963-67). In 1988, then Vice President and presidential candidate George H.W. Bush considered Gov. Deukmejian as a possible vice presidential running mate. However, Deukmejian asked that his name be withdrawn from consideration in order not to leave California in the hands of a Democratic Lieutenant Governor. Had he not declined and had been picked for the Republican ticket, Deukmejian would have been elected Vice President along with Pres. Bush later that year. Subsequently, he could have run for President, and if successful, become the first US President of Armenian descent!
To honor the governor, over 500 government officials, former colleagues, friends, family members and distinguished guests attended the courthouse dedication ceremony. Congratulatory remarks were delivered by members of the California Supreme Court, Superior Court of Los Angeles County, U.S. Congress, State Assembly, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Mayor of Long Beach, and Bar Association of Long Beach.
The half million square feet Deukmejian Courthouse includes 31 courtrooms, administrative space, detention facilities, offices for county justice agencies, and compatible retail space. The building features the latest safety and environmental innovations with functional public spaces for the efficient conduct of business and movement of people throughout the building.
Successive speakers emphasized Gov. Deukmejian’s strong family values and his Armenian heritage. California Supreme Court Justice Marvin Baxter (Bagdasarian), who had worked for Gov. Deukmejian as Appointments Secretary, mentioned in his keynote remarks that the governor had “moved from New York to California in 1955, armed only with his law degree and high principles instilled by his Armenian-American immigrant parents…. He was an outstanding legislator, attorney general, and governor. He earned and retained our respect through more than a quarter century of excellent public service at the highest levels.”
Gov. Deukmejian, a native of the village of Menands, New York, was named Courken at birth. His father, Courken, was from Aintab and mother, Elbiss (Alice), from Arapkir.
Justice Baxter recalled that the Judicial Council of California had decided with a unanimous vote to name the new building as the Governor George Deukmejian Courthouse. “This action reflects the bipartisan respect and support” the governor enjoys “throughout this nation and state,” Baxter proudly proclaimed.
The 35th governor of California was the last speaker of the evening before unveiling the dedication plaque, surrounded by his wife Gloria, their children and grandchildren.
“So many parties skillfully have combined their talent and expertise to produce a truly extraordinary new courthouse building in Long Beach,” stated Gov. Deukmejian. “It is an outstanding addition to the skyline and to the fabric of the city, and I am proud and pleased to have my name associated with it.” He called the dedication ceremony “a wonderful, touching and humbling capstone to my life and career in public service.”
In a jovial mood, Gov. Deukmejian made self-deprecating remarks about his well-known “lack of charisma,” and his long Armenian last name which he had never considered changing or shortening. “My only concern has been that my name wouldn’t fit” on the courthouse building, the governor joked to the great amusement of the guests.
One would hope that the 85-year-old governor would soon make his first trip to Armenia. It is important that the young generation of Armenians in the homeland get to know him as an outstanding role model and inspiration for their future accomplishments.