Vartan Gregorian, the philanthropist and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient whose work revitalized the New York Public Library, died Thursday at age 87 while hospitalized for “testing related to stomach pain,” according to a statement by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
Gregorian served as the Carnegie Corporation’s president in New York City and the former president of Brown University.
“We must continue to provide opportunities for all so that our country’s best institutions of higher learning do not become the sole preserve of the talented few who are wealthy enough to afford tuition or poor enough to qualify for aid,” Gregorian said at his final Convocation address at Brown in 1997. “We must provide opportunities for the entire spectrum of our society. For America is a microcosm of the world, and Brown must be a microcosm of America.”
Born in Iran to Armenian parents in 1934, Gregorian moved to the United States in 1956 to attend Stanford University, according to a tribute by Carnegie Corporation. Gregorian partnered with several companies to form the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa, whose grants to nine countries amounted to $440 million over 10 years for more than 4 million African students at 379 universities and colleges.
After taking up teaching posts at the University of Texas and University of Pennsylvania — during which time he became a U.S. citizen — Gregorian became the New York Public Library’s president in 1981, where he revived the second largest library in the country and brought it out of a funding and facility crisis.
As president of the Library, Gregorian not only restored the main NYPL building, but also renovated many historic branch locations, grew strengthened circulating collections with a focus on multilingual and multicultural materials, and increased education and literacy programs among other things, according to the NYPL.
A recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004 for his humanitarian work, Gregorian created the Carnegie Scholars program during his tenure at the Carnegie Corporation, which “eventually came to focus exclusively on Islam and the modern world,” according to the Carnegie Corporation.
Gregorian also established Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy in 2001, an award that honors philanthropists from all over the world “who understand how modern philanthropy plays a critical role in building and sustaining our democratic institutions,” according to the Carnegie Corporation. CNN’s Ted Turner was one of the first recipients of the Andrew Carnegie Medals of Philanthropy, for “his historic $1 billion gift to the United Nations, for his passionate stewardship of the environment and for the Nuclear Threat Initiative to reduce the global threat posed by nuclear and biological weapons,” according to a release from Carnegie Corporation.
Gregorian served on several boards as well throughout his lifetime, including those of the September 11 Memorial & Museum, the American Academy in Berlin, the J. Paul Getty Trust, Aga Khan University, the Qatar Foundation, the McGraw-Hill companies, Brandeis University, Human Rights Watch, The Museum of Modern Art, the Library of Alexandria and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, among others.
In a statement on Gregorian’s passing, The Children of Armenia Fund, whose board on which Gregorian also served, called him “a true visionary for whom education and knowledge were the key to opportunity and peace.”
Gregorian assumed the presidency at Brown University in 1989. During that time, he doubled Brown’s endowment and recruited 275 new faculty members, 72 of whom were professors, the Carnegie Collection post said.
“Gregorian’s impact and legacy are evident through his commitment to strengthening Brown’s academic experience, embracing the diversity that is essential to achieving the highest levels of excellence,” Brown President Christina H. Paxson said in a letter to the University community on Gregorian’s passing.
He is survived by his three sons, including NBC News reporter Dareh Gregorian, who is married to Maggie Haberman, a Washington correspondent at The New York Times.