ADAA Honors the Memory
of Varnum Paul
LAWYER, CIVIC LEADER AND PHILANTHROPIST,
FOUNDING FATHER OF THE WESTERN DIOCESE OF THE ARMENIAN CHURCH ENDOWMENT
DIES AFTER STROKE AT 100
He was Still Practicing Law
Five Days a Week in San Francisco Financial District.
Honored by California Supreme Court & State Bar for 75 year practice.
Awarded the St. Gregory Medal by the Catholicos.
Richard Nixon Roommate During WWII.
by Deborah Behrens
(OCTOBER 14, 2008) Varnum Paul, the prominent
San Francisco lawyer and civic leader who helped guide the early development
of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church, founded its endowment
fund and quietly bestowed substantial philanthropic gifts to numerous
Armenian organizations including the Paul Brothers Galleria at Diocese
headquarters in Burbank while still actively practicing law five days
a week at 100, has died.
“Varnum was the patriarch of our Diocese,” said Archbishop
Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Western Diocese who spoke at Paul’s
services held earlier last week at St. John Apostolic Church in San
Francisco. “We consider him one of the most inspiring leaders in its
early formation and later growth. His engagement and active involvement
have been very visible. Yet he never sought any public recognition.
“He was a very wise man because whatever Varnum earned
in his life he made sure every single penny was used for a good purpose.
The message that he conveyed was that we cannot waste what we earn.
It has to be offered back to the community. That was his philosophy.”
Paul and his brother Dr. S. Barre Paul received the
St. Gregory The Illuminator Medal from His Holiness Karekin I, Supreme
Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, during His Holiness' 1996
pontifical visit to the Western Diocese in recognition for their exemplary
leadership, dedication and unique philanthropy for the growth of the
mission of the Armenian Church. †
Upon learning of Paul’s recent death, His Holiness
Karekin II, sent a letter of condolences that praised his contributions.
“As a benefactor to the Western Diocese of the Armenian
Church of North America, Varnum Paul placed great importance on giving
back to his community, in appreciation for the countless blessings
given to him by Almighty God. Through his hard work, integrity, dedication
and worthy service, he was an example to his contemporaries and future
generations of selfless generosity and honorable sacrifice.
Varnum Paul with His Holiness
Karekin II on Father’s Day, 2006
“Nearly two decades ago, the newly independent and
free Republic of Armenia reestablished its statehood on a small portion
of our historic homeland, and the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin was
granted the gift from heaven to once more freely implement its God-ordained
mission in the life of our people. With his distinct vision and determination,
Varnum Paul became a benefactor of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin
as well, to bring his assistance and encouragement to the strengthening
of the mission of the Armenian Church, in the homeland and throughout
the world. His efforts and generosity play a vital role in the renaissance
of our spiritual and educational life.”
For example, in 2007, Paul made a contribution to
the Armenian Dramatic Arts Alliance to establish a bi-annual $10,000
prize for the best screenplay with an Armenian theme facilitated by
the Western Diocese under the guidance of Archbishop Derderian.
Throughout his life, Paul would be instrumental in
educating others on how making charitable donations to the church
via vehicles such as endowment funds was not only a sound tax savings
and estate planning strategy for the donor, but a way to help to insure
the church’s future existence.
It was a philosophy honed during his years at St.
John Armenian Apostolic Church. A member of the 84-year old parish
since the early 1930’s, Paul went door-to-door in the late 1950’s
actively soliciting help from the Armenian community to finance a
new church. In the 60’s, he volunteered to set up the legal and financial
structures required to establish a parish endowment fund, a precursor
to the one he would help institute two decades later for the Western
“It was his vision,” states Archpriest Fr. Sarkis
Petoyan. “He really guided it through its infancy and then supported
it financially. We were one of the first parishes to move in that
direction. Thanks to the foresight of the founding generation of this
parish, the second generation in America, my administrative and pastoral
responsibilities are much easier than my predecessor.
“Thanks to the legacy of Varnum Paul and Dr. S. Barre
Paul, we are set and prepared to go into the next generation with
both barrels loaded.”
Varnum Paul at 24 in 1932
An Honest Lawyer
Varnum Paul was born in Lynn, Massachusetts on Sept.
22, 1908 to Bedros and Elmas Boghosian. He was the youngest of four
siblings: S. Barre Paul M.D., Francis, Charley and Haig plus three
half siblings Paul, Jack, and Sateneg.
His father sold horseshoes in Kharpert, Armenia then
became a shoemaker upon his arrival in America. The family moved to
a ranch in Fresno when Paul was in the third grade. Following his
high school graduation, he attended the University of California Berkeley
where he was a member of the Delta Theta Phi fraternity before graduating
with a BA in 1930. He worked two jobs while in school as a hasher
serving meals at a women’s sorority and in the university library.
Paul earned his law degree from the School of Jurisprudence
at Boalt Hall in 1933 and was admitted to the California State Bar
the same year. At the height of the Depression, Paul got his first
job with an insurance company travelling up and down the state handling
worker’s compensation cases.
In 1935, he entered private practice when attorney
Reginald Vaughn hired him to join his firm, to be followed by John
G. Lyons in 1946 and the three formed Vaughn, Paul and Lyons, which
has maintained offices in the Mills Tower building on Bush Street
for more than fifty years.
In 1938, Paul became a professor and lecturer in
law, torts and evidence at Golden Gate Law College where he taught
two nights a week until 1970.
“I think he was best known for all the service that
he performed for his clients and for his profession,” said Dr. Jack
Saroyan who knew Paul since Saroyan’s childhood. “When you teach at
a law school it’s not for the money, it’s because you love the profession.”
Last month, the Supreme Court of California and the
State Bar of California presented Paul with a plaque congratulating
him for completing 75 years in the practice of law. Until his stroke
on September 12, he was still going to work daily to handle probate
and estate planning cases.
“Not only did Varnum come into the office five days
a week,” said Willis Silverthorne, a law associate who shared office
space and assisted with Paul’s client files, “he came in a suit and
tie. Our building is one of the largest and oldest in town. When it’s
filled, it has about 9,000 people. Everybody either knew Varnum by
name or knew who he was. His clients would drop in out of the blue
just to say hello or bring sandwiches at lunchtime and sit there with
him at his desk.”
According to Silverthorne, it was Paul’s genuine
love of people that attracted friends and clients to him as well as
a quality not currently associated with lawyers – honesty.
“Honesty to a failing is what they call it today,”
he says. “Varnum had no agenda that he did not make clear to his clients.
A client would say, well can’t we get around this? And he’d say, yes
we can, but wouldn’t you rather live in peace?”
“To me the Latin word ‘veritas’ most aptly and accurately
describes the character, the strength and the beauty of Varnum Paul,”
states Jim Deitz, former president and owner of the San Francisco-based
Heald College who met Paul in 1966 when Deitz asked him to join its
board. “That translates into truth and being true. I found him to
be true in every respect of the word. Everyone admired Varnum.”
That admiration was due in part to Paul’s extensive
pro bono legal work on behalf of such organizations as the Rotary
Club of San Francisco as trustee of their endowment fund, legal counsel
for the Masonic Lodges and Masonic Homes of California, plus numerous
positions at the Olympic Club.
“He gave of his legal expertise to these organizations
freely,” explains Saroyan. “Including setting up an endowment fund
for the entire Diocese. All for the good of the public without any
charges. I think he was really an inspiration to a lot of people.”
Paul was also widely recognized as an astute businessman
whose knowledge of real estate, stocks and bonds made him a trusted
member of several investment clubs.
“If Varnum said it, you could trust it,” concurs
Father Sarkis. “His reputation preceded him in that manner. There’s
a reason people turned to Varnum time after time after time. He was
worthy of everyone’s trust. He was trustworthy.”
The Military and Marriage
During World War II, Varnum became a Lt. Commander
in the U.S. Naval Reserve from 1942-1946 and initially served on the
Aleutian Islands. He met Richard Nixon while both were subsequently
stationed at the Alameda Naval Air Station where they worked together
on special legal matters for the Navy and became good friends.
Upon joint assignment to the New York City office
of Naval Affairs, Nixon asked Paul to be his roommate in the then
shared officer’s quarters. The two maintained their friendship over
the years and when Nixon became Vice President under Dwight Eisenhower,
he invited Paul, his wife Lillian and young daughter Karen for a private
tour of the Capital and the White House.
Varnum married Lillian Mosesian Kondazian in Las
Vegas in 1954. She had been a teacher before their marriage and later
obtained her Masters Degree in Armenian Studies at the age of 76.
During their 51 years of marriage, they traveled the world together
until her death in 2005.
In memory of her, a yearly drawing is held at Easter
for a free trip to Armenia for one member of the St. John’s Armenian
Their daughter Karen Kondazian is an award winning
theater, television and film actress and published writer.
“He was the most inspiring person I’ve ever known,
“ said Kondazian. “He taught me to embrace the day with curiosity
and passion and love no matter what. He had terrible sciatica, but
he put on his suit and his tie everyday and did what he had to do.
That’s what he taught me. You put on your suit and tie everyday and
do what you have to do. No matter how exhausted you are.
“I’ve never seen anybody with such willpower. Such
integrity. He made me a better person that I could have ever been
Varnum Paul celebrates his
A Gentleman’s Gentleman
Paul was particularly noted for his compassion and
kindness towards others as well as being a gifted conversationalist.
“I have never come across one person who could say
that he got hurt by Varnum,” admits Archbishop Derderian. “Never ever.
It’s amazing. How someone could lead a life without a spot.
To him, everybody was good. He tried to see whatever
was good in the person’s heart.”
“There’s no one on this earth who has anything bad
to say about Varnum,” emphasizes Father Sarkis. “It’s impossible.
Likewise, Varnum was a good judge of character. Maybe he saw flaws
in other people but he never spoke ill of another person. It’s a lesson
for all of us.”
“The key to Varnum Paul was that he never told you
how he felt because he was more interested to learn from you and how
you felt,” adds partner Silverthorne.
“He was the most engaging and socially compelling
man I’ve ever really met,” says Kathleen Gillam who served with Paul
on the Heald College board and borrowed office space when in town
for Intel. “And I’ve known some great ones. He had such a perpetual
twinkle in his eye. He genuinely loved people and was truly interested
in what you were doing.”
According to Gillam, Paul enjoyed a constant stream
of daily visitors and was popular with both men and women.
“He was flirtatious in a very subtle way,” she laughs.
“A pretty girl never passed him without some level of acknowledgement.
He seemed to be a chick magnet even at 100. It’s a special gift and
Varnum certainly had it all the way until the last day.”
Keys to a Long Life
When Paul reached his centennial birthday on September
22, 2008, he received a congratulatory letter from President Bush
and best wishes from Willard Scott on NBC’s Today Show.
People attributed his long life to the daily regimen
he maintained for nearly seventy years, his optimistic outlook and
his enjoyment of others. Well into his 90’s, Paul walked up and down
San Francisco’s steep hills from his Nob Hill residence to his financial
district office and over to the Olympic Club where he swam nearly
every day since 1935. At 89, he won the Senior Back Stroke in it masters
“Varnum just loved life,” says Gillam. “He never
wanted to miss a day. He really genuinely loved interacting with people.
He had such a work ethic. I can’t imagine he’d ever stop working.
To him it was a part of life.”
“We talked about the fact that it was critical that
you stay involved with urgent things like clients and their cases
to keep you active, young and your mind acute,” adds Silverthorne.
“Rather than sitting at home reading the newspaper or a book or watching
“Varnum didn’t let his cases bother him,” says Jim
Deitz. “He was very even tempered and mild mannered. When you have
an absence of stress in driving, in work, in daily living and marriage,
it’s almost as good as exercise.”
According to Father Sarkis, Paul’s upbeat approach
to each day’s ever changing joys and sorrows was the key to his longevity.
“With Varnum there was no woulda coulda shoulda.
No woe is me. People who are gloomers and doomers give themselves
heart attacks and ulcers. They worry themselves to death. I have to
say that this man had just a brilliant attitude toward people and
toward life. He saw the best in all things.”