Yervant Terzian
1939 - 2019
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Yervant Terzian

Ithaca - Yervant Terzian, the Tish Distinguished University Professor Emeritus in the Department of Astronomy at Cornell University, died on November 25, 2019, after a long illness. Yervant made major contributions to the field of astronomy as a researcher, an inspired teacher and a gifted administrator. He had a tremendous capability to infect both students and everyone he knew or met with the excitement for astronomy that he personally felt.

Yervant Terzian was born on Thursday, February 9, 1939 in Alexandria, Egypt. It was a cool early spring day, with rain transitioning from rain to drizzle and cumulus clouds against the Mediterranean sky. He was the son of a small merchant, Bedros Terzian, who as a child had fled the Armenian genocide, and his wife, Maria (Kyriakaki) Terzian, the daughter of a fisherman from one of the smallest and most remote Greek islands. By dint of his intelligence, determination, skillfulness and a formidable sense of duty and purpose, he lived an improbable life. Born into a family of modest means, an ethnic minority in an occupied former colony of a declining empire, he channeled his intense passion for knowledge and education to become a leader in the field of radio astronomy and the broader field of astrophysics, and to build up Cornell University's strong but small Astronomy Department into one of the most highly regarded in the world.

Yervant spent his youth in Alexandria and Cairo. At a young age, he determined to become an astronomer and walked from his home on Ibrahim Pasha Road to the Cairo Observatory to seek the director's advice. A few years later, he learned English (his fifth language) to read the astronomy books in the American Library of Cairo; the librarian, impressed by his enthusiasm, bought new books for him to read when he exhausted what their initial holdings. At 17 he was admitted to the American University in Cairo, where he earned an undergraduate degree in physics in 1960. Overcoming the bureaucratic obstacles that were placed on ethnic minorities following the fall of the King Farouk and the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, he entered the PhD program in astrophysics at Indiana University in Bloomington, which he completed in 1965. His doctoral research, conducted at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in West Virginia, led to a lifetime of contributions to our understanding of the interstellar medium, the gas and dust between the stars. In early 1965 he joined the scientific staff of the recently built, and Cornell University managed, Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, the beginning of a lifelong association with Cornell.

In 1967 Yervant moved to Cornell's Ithaca, New York, campus as an assistant professor of astronomy, the start of a distinguished teaching career for which in 1984 he received the Clark Distinguished Award for Excellence in Teaching. Over the years he supervised many PhD students and authored, or co-authored, over 235 scientific publications and edited seven books including Carl Sagan's Universe. In 1979 he was appointed Chair of the Astronomy Department, a position he held for twenty years, a testament to his vision, his diplomatic skills and his strong sense of duty towards the University, his colleagues and his students. A tireless champion for scientific literacy, he engaged regularly with public audiences regarding important discoveries about planets, stars, black holes, and galaxies. While Chair, he founded the Friends of Astronomy (FoA), a group of Cornell related alumni who shared Yervant's enthusiasm for astronomy and who have been, and continue to be, very supportive of Cornell's Astronomy Department. However, it was in the broader area of astronomy that he made his major contributions. He was a scientific editor of the Astrophysical Journal for ten years from 1989. In 1996 he was appointed director of the NASA-funded New York Space Grant Consortium for Science Education and, later, director of the National Space Grant Consortium. In 2002 he was elected chair of the US Consortium of Universities and Institutes involved with the international project to build the next generation of large radio telescopes, the Square Kilometer Array, and chaired the site selection committee for the telescope.

Profoundly proud and thankful for all the opportunities that were attendant to becoming an American citizen, he served his country as a scientist whenever the occasion arose. Also proud and loyal to his Armenian and Greek heritage, he sought out or created opportunities to assist and collaborate with scientists from both nations. In the wake of the breakup of the Soviet Union and the loss of much of the funding for scientists in Armenia, Yervant and colleagues created the very successful Armenian National Science and Education Fund, which Yervant chaired, to raise money to support Armenian scientists based on peer-reviewed proposals. He was a founding member of the Hellenic Astronomical Society and the Armenian Astronomical Society (1993 and 2001, respectively).

Yervant's contributions were widely recognized. He was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Science degrees from the University of Indiana (1989), the Yerevan State University in Armenia (1994), the University of Thessaloniki in Greece (1997), and from Union College in New York (1999). In 1990, he was elected a Foreign Member of the Armenian Academy of Sciences. In 1999 the Friends of Astronomy established an endowment for The Yervant Terzian Undergraduate Scholarships; in 2009 FoA Chuck Mund, Jr. established the Yervant Terzian Lectures. In 2001 he was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 2004 he received the Distinguished Alumni Award from the American University in Cairo. In 2008 he received the Gold Medal, the highest honor for scientific achievement, from the Government of the Republic of Armenia. In 2018 NASA awarded him its highest honor for non-government individuals, the Public Service Medal. Appointments by Cornell, as Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow and Tisch Distinguished University Professor honored his contributions as a teacher and a scientist.

Competitive by nature and a former champion athlete in track and field, Yervant had a love for sports throughout his life. He also greatly enjoyed traveling throughout the world and listening to classical, Greek, and Armenian music, cooking Greek food and tending to his fruit trees and flower gardens. He was especially fond of Ithaca, which he made his home for most of his life.

Yervant was preceded in death by his sister, Vaya Stamatopoulos of Athens, Greece, and by his first wife and mother of his children, Araxy (Hovsepian) Bablanian of Gainsville, FL. He is survived by his wife, Patricia Fernández de Castro, daughter Tamar (Joseph) Terzian, of Alexandria, VA; son, Sevan (Lee-Ann) Terzian of Gainesville, FL; grandsons Zaven Masih and Christopher Terzian; granddaughters Nairi Masih and Talar Terzian; nieces, Mary Stamatopoulos, Maral Tchelikdjian, and Talar Kizirian; nephew, Pericles Stamatopoulos and three grand-nephews.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Armenian National Science & Education Fund (ANSEF). Please make checks to FAR/ANSEF and mail them to: Fund for Armenian Relief (FAR), c/o Mr. Garnik Nanagoulian, 630 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10016

A memorial gathering will be held at 404 Highland Road, Ithaca, NY, from 12:00 pm-2:30 pm on Friday, December 6. The funeral will follow at the Pleasant Grove Cemetery at 3:00 pm.

Published by Ithaca Journal from Nov. 29 to Dec. 3, 2019.
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Memorial Gathering
12:00p.m. - 2:30p.m.
404 Highland Road, Ithaca, NY
Pleasant Grove Cemetery
Funeral services provided by:
Bangs Funeral Home, Inc. - Ithaca
Sponsored by The Ithaca Journal.
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15 Entries
Yervant may you Rest In Peace I am so blessed to have known such a wonderful person . You taught me a lot about the stars and shared your memories with me about your being a professor. I really loved meeting your family and admired them all. My heart and thoughts will always be with them and Patricia. Thank you Yervant for be such a blessing in my life. I will never forget you.
Trish Talbot Ithaca/ Longview
Trish Talbot
June 25, 2020
RIP Yervant. You had a twinkly in your eye and lovely smile. Your legacy is into eternity and into the galaxy. Patricia, my heart goes out to you. Sue (formerly from Ithaca
Sue Michlovitz
December 27, 2019
My heartfelt sympathy on the passing of this most distinguished and unforgettable man.

I've never met Yervant Terzian but tonight after reading his obituary and the condolences that followed, i had to write to say that as the grand daughter of Souren Terzian (no relation) I am humbled and i am so proud of the lifelong passion, dedication, intellegence, determination, humanity, generosity, vision,
and elegance of this remarkable, remarkable man.

As a fellow Armenian I am so proud of you Yervant Terzian! God gave you the gift of life and you gave back to life tenfold!

After reading about you it's easy to say that the world needs more people like you and you will be sorely missed but you have walked such a grand path that your footsteps will never be forgotten.

I wish you a beautiful ever after in Heaven and i thank you for your many gifts and special contributions to our world...

My deepest condolences to the Terzian family.

Rest in peace.......
Ninette Halpin
Ninette Halpin
December 13, 2019
In loving memory of a classmate of mine at the Armenian school in Cairo in 1953.Yervant was an average student ,however he was extremely dedicated to his vision to become an astronomer from the age of 14.....Bravo
George Mirakian
December 9, 2019
Armenian astronomer Ed Khachikian was friends for many decades with Yervant. Ed visited several times to Cornell, hosted by Yervant, and Ed's wife Mara also visited. The entire several generations of the Khachikian family send our condolences for the loss of a kind and good friend. He will be well remembered.
Khachikian Family
December 7, 2019
On behalf of our many Armenian friends, Lusine Sargsyan and I send our sorrow at this news. Yervant will always be fondly remembered by the Armenian scientific community for his heroic efforts to create and perpetuate the ANSEF program that greatly benefited hundreds of struggling Armenian scientists.
Dan Weedman
December 7, 2019

Sending you love and support at this sad time.

Mary Beth Grant
December 6, 2019
My wife Mary and I were quite saddened to hear of the death of Yervant Terzian. Although we have not seen each other for many years, two meetings have remained part of our endearing friendship and love for him.

When I was a graduate physics student at Indiana University (IU), Bloomington, from 1960-64, early on our arrival in Bloomington, we went to the Graduate Residence Center where an International Night was taking place where students from different countries participated with national songs and dances from the multitude of foreign students at IU. We recall the women students from Brazil that performed a colorful and beautiful dance. Suddenly, we were surprised to hear two men, Yervant Terzian and Hrant Avedissian, singing in Armenian! That is when we first met Yervant and Hrant. Yervant and I often met in Swain Hall, where both the physics and astronomy departments were housed.

In 1986, I was chairman of the physics department at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and invited Yervant to give a talk to the whole campus. The largest auditorium on campus was full of students, faculty and towns people. Yervant gave a tremendous lecture showing beautiful slides of the variety of astronomical objects and the vastness of the Universe. It was breath taking!

Yervant stayed at the Blockade Runner on Wrightsville Beach during his visit. We often walked on the beach and had wonderful conversations. Yervant was quite taken to the beach owing to being from Ithaca!

Yervant was a great astronomer and all Armenians see him as part of the long history and tradition of Armenia as being one of the cradles of ancient science and astronomical knowledge.

Moorad & Mary Alexanian
December 5, 2019
I'm sad to hear of the passing of the second member of my Ph.D. committee. Dr. Terzian, of blessed memory, made helpful suggestions re: the writing of my thesis and joined me at the Mauna Kea observatory on one of my observing runs.

Most memorable, however, was a spirited discussion we had about Nikos Kazantzakis's "Last Temptation of Christ." I discovered that Dr. Terzian was well-versed in other matters besides science--history, philosophy, religion--and the discussion I had w/ him encouraged me to do the same. We even shared some words in Greek.

Fond memories all.
Perry Phillips
December 3, 2019
In the 1990s when I was working in Elmira and had no connection with Cornell, my colleagues and I were having a lunchtime discussion about a meteorite containing organic molecules that had recently been discovered in Antarctica.

To answer some questions that had arisen, I placed a call to the Cornell University switchboard and asked to be connected with the astronomy department. A polite and enthusiastic man answered on the second ring, probably a grad student covering the phones during lunch. Every question he answered lead to a followup one and we were on the phone for 45 minutes.

As we were signing off, I thanked him and asked him his name, since I was so appreciative of his kindness and help. He answered Yervant Terzian.
Peter Hoyt
December 2, 2019
Dear Patricia:

It is with great sorrow we at Fund for Armenian Relief Armenia learned about the loss youve encountered.

We have been honored and blessed to have known Dr. Terzian. He was truly a blessing to Armenian scientific community and ANSEF. His contribution to support science in Armenia is immeasurable. We are confident that the grounds laid by the honorable professor will sustain overtime thanks to the legacy he created both here in Armenia and the USA.

Our deepest condolences to you and the family. We will always remember and miss Dr. Terzian. May his soul rest in peace, and you all have enough strength to live through this time of grief.

With best regards,
FAR Armenia team

Fund for Armenian Relief
November 28, 2019

We are very saddened with the news of Dr. YERVANT TERZIAN s passing, who was Cornell University Tish distinguished professor, and
Director of NASA NY state. And also was one of our DIstinguished
Honoree at our Second year anniversary of for NY - NJ section of the ARMENIAN ENGINEERS and SCIENTIST of AMERICA on the east coast.
His presence, along with his galactic imaging presentation at that banquet left an unforgettable memories among all the scientist and non scientist alike.
We have lost a great scientist who has contributed to the advancements of the human knowledge on our universe.
Surely we will miss him.

Hovhannes Mardirossian
AESA -NE President Emeritus
Hovhannes John Mardirossian
November 27, 2019
Yervant was a consummate scientist, educator, humanitarian, and a cherished friend. He left an indelible mark on the hearts of all those he knew. Yervants immeasurable contribution to the success of ANSEF will be remembered with profound gratitude by the scientific community in Armenia. May he rest in peace, and may the Lord shed his solace on Patricia and his entire family.
Tavit Najarian
November 27, 2019
A man of incredible integrity and limitless curiosity, Dr. Terzian made an enormous contribution to humanity through his work, which advanced the body of knowledge about our universe.

In addition to his numerous activities in the international field, he also strongly supported the development of astronomy and science in Armenia.

He founded FARs Armenian National Science and Education Fund (ANSEF), a project with a focused mission of perpetuating Armenias tradition of excellence in research and scholarship. For the last 20 years ANSEF has supported thousands of Armenian scientists through research assistance. For many of them, especially for young scientists, ANSEF awards have often been their springboard to world-class scientific achievements.

Dr. Terzians personal investment in maintaining the integrity of Armenias scientific, technological and scholarly research communities through ANSEF was evident. I hope you feel as proud of these fellow Armenians as I do, he would often say.

Yervant was a consummate scientist, educator, humanist and a cherished friend. He left an indelible memory upon all whose life he touched. His immeasurable contribution to the successes of ANSEF could not be stressed enough, said Dr. Tavit Najarian, the first Chairman of the ANSEF Board of Trustees.

"Yervants contagious energy and optimism were sourced by his deep love for Science, Humanity, and his Greek and Armenian roots. We feel fortunate to have worked with him as we commit to carry on his legacy at ANSEF. As the astrophysics community mourns a central figure, we will miss him as a friend, a leader, and a source of immense inspiration. We feel comfort in knowing that his soul is now at rest amongst the heavenly stars he spent a lifetime studying", said Ashot Papoyan, Lilit Yeghiazarian, Vatche Sahakian, Yervant Terzians long-term fellow ANSEF Research Council members, adding that Dr. Terzians legacy of supporting cutting-edge scientific research in Armenia through ANSEF will be continued.

With the loss of Dr. Terzian, FAR and ANSEF have lost a very dear friend, mentor, and humanitarian. He will be sorely missed.

Fund for Armenian Relief/ANSEF
Fund for Armenian Relief ANSEF
November 27, 2019
What a wonderful, engaging, voraciously curious man! We're just two of countless Cornell colleagues and students fortunate enough to have been embraced by his friendship. Bon voyage, Yervant! You will be sorely missed.
Scott & Jane MacDonald
November 26, 2019
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