Verla Gean Farmanfarmaian
April 1920 ~ April 2013
Our beloved mother, grandmother, aunt, sister, teacher and 'Persian Princess' to so many of her friends and students, passed away peacefully on Friday April 26, at the age of 93. We miss her extraordinary passion for life, her unique gift with music, and her special ability to inspire in all those around her the joy of every minute lived.
Verla Gean was born in Smithfield, Utah to Raymond Miller and Clarice Stockdale Miller of the Miller Honey Company. The oldest of five, Verla Gean sold honey door-to-door during the Depression, and moved all around Utah, Idaho and California with her family as the Miller brothers experimented with the then revolutionary idea of trucking bees. This proved the catalyst of her life-long interest in unfamiliar communities and different ways of life. At each new home, her father would carry in her beloved upright piano himself, so she could practice every morning at dawn, developing her amazing skill at the keyboard and the deep love for music that became a hallmark of her life. Verla Gean attended East High in Salt Lake City, before earning a BA at the University of Utah. Throughout, she taught piano lessons to pay for her education, a harbinger of her lasting love for teaching.
Verla Gean's first job took her to Cedar City, where she taught 5th grade, making such an impression that many of her students kept in contact with her over the following 60 years. Eager to see more of the world, she then moved to New York City, becoming a governess for a Hungarian family - living on Fifth Avenue and travelling to Europe and the Middle East. In 1951 she began a Master's degree at Columbia University Teacher's College, majoring in music. It was there she met and later married Prince Manucher Farmanfarmaian, scion of an old Persian royal family. The Utah newspapers heralded the match with enthusiasm: 'Cinderella Story Comes True: Murray girl weds Prince'. The couple moved to Iran in 1952, where Verla Gean worked with the Red Cross, and played a Chopin piano concert at the Shah's court. She also learned to play bridge, a game that brought her joy and friendships throughout her life. In 1955, she returned briefly to Salt Lake for the birth of their daughter, Roxane.
In 1958, Manucher's work with Iranian Oil took them to The Hague, Holland, where Verla Gean became President of the American Women's Club, and later, head of the Girl Scouts, receiving a Lifetime Scout award for bringing together the Dutch, American and Indonesian Girl Scout Troops for the first time. When she and her husband separated, she returned to teaching, eventually becoming Principal of the American International Elementary School of The Hague. Verla Gean always had a book (or two) in hand and a pen in her purse, was always ready to strike up a song on the keyboard and encourage everyone to sing, was as game to play volleyball at recess as to add wow-power as the most elegant (and dramatic) model in the community fashion show, and to go the extra mile to carve out a place of safety for ethnically, racially, or religiously different children. Her motto was 'Say it with humor and play fair', which she'd pronounce with a twinkle, chatting with friends new or old, over a cup of hot coffee with lots of sugar and milk.
In 1973, when Roxane graduated from high school, Verla Gean returned to Utah after 20 years of international adventure. She obtained a Master's Degree in Education, Cum Laude, from the University of Utah and was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa Society. In 1978, she joined Wasatch Elementary as a 5th grade teacher, where she remained until her retirement at 73-years-old. Besides earning the school an ornamental tree for best 5th grade science project in the state, Verla Gean was a Teacher of the Year finalist in 1990. In 2000, she was featured in the compendium on notable Utah women, 'Worth their Salt, Too'. A dedicated member of the Ladies Literary Club where she played the piano for 20 years, she received the Salt Lake District Clubwoman of the Year Award in 2002.
In 1997, one of Verla Gean's most cherished dreams came true when her grandson, Kian Stevenson, was born.
A committed advocate of protecting and nurturing the earth, of listening to other's views, and most important, of encouraging creativity and love in our children, Verla Gean will be sorely missed for the wonderment she brought to life, her verve, her beauty and her grace.
A Memorial in her honor will be held June 5, 2013 at the Ladies Literary Club, from 4-6 p.m. In lieu of flowers, friends who wish to make a donation in Verla Gean's name may contribute to the Legacy Music Alliance.
Published in Salt Lake Tribune on May 2, 2013