Aram Garabedian wasn’t expecting to get the call from the Rhode Island Secretary of State’s Office in October – he hasn’t been a politician in years – but was very happy to discover he was nominated as one of three individuals to receive the 2017 National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) Medallion Award for civic duty.
In a statement, RI Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea said that Garabedian was being recognized for his “longstanding civic leadership” as an elected official and as a board member for Rhode Island non-profits.
Another award winner is Warwick Senator and chairwoman of the Judiciary Committee Erin Lynch-Prata for her legislation making it easier for Rhode Islanders to be engaged in the voting process. The other three awards went to Shanna Wells of West Warwick for organizing the Rhode Island Women’s Solidary Rally, the Providence Student Union for helping to pass automatic voter registration in Rhode Island, and the Rhode Island Foundation for “creating public private partnerships that are empowering Rhode Islanders while strengthening our state.”
Garabedian, who is the co-managing partner of the Warwick Mall and resides in Cranston, said the award really made him happy because it recognizes his lifelong dedication to two things: “helping the common good and making mom proud.”
“It starts off in 1966, when I ran for the school committee in Cranston and got elected,” he said.
In his two terms on the school committee, from 1966 to 1972, he said he started plenty of battles about the future of Cranston schools, many of which still resonate today. For example, he was able to change the location of a new junior high school, now Western Hills, from Aqueduct Road to the western part of Cranston, where “growth was really taking place.” He also played a role in getting the state to build a vocational school in Cranston.
He also takes pride in a 3,000-person meeting that he organized during his school committee tenure to fight the proposal for creating four school districts in the state, which he said wouldn’t have been economically plausible.
After serving on the school committee in Cranston, Garabedian took his political career to the state level, where he was elected as a Republican House Representative for three terms, in 1972, 1974 and 1976.
After losing a race for Lieutenant Governor in 1978, he wrote off politics until 1998, when he ran as an independent for state representative and won. He also ran as a Democrat for Senator and lost, and ran for Mayor of Cranston as a Democrat in 2002 but narrowly lost to Stephen Laffey. Garabedian also served as president of the Cranston City Council from 2005 to 2008.
In between political stints, Garabedian had a successful business career as the senior vice president of sales and marketing for the vitamins company NBTY Global, which he started with three people and helped turn into a $3.75 billion company. He now serves as president of Bliss Properties, which manages the Warwick Mall, among other holdings.
Beyond his successful business and political careers are the real reasons why Garabedian won this award: his work with nonprofits and his contributions to the preserved education of the Holocaust and genocides across the world, from Armenia to Darfur.
Garabedian has served on the non-profit side on multiple boards, including the RI Red Cross, Meals on Wheels and the RI Holocaust Education Center.
In 2000, he sponsored a bill that cities and towns across the state would improve the education of genocide in schools. This past house session, a law was passed making Rhode Island the only state for mandatory education of the holocaust, genocide and Darfur, he said.
An Army veteran himself, Garabedian also helped raise $600,000 in a $1.3 million project passed by the General Assembly to put a World War II monument on South Main Street in Providence.
Recently, he sponsored a 12-bus, 600-person trip to New York City with “all different nationalities of veterans.”
“I got involved big-time in holocaust, genocide, veterans affairs, so many issues,” he said. “The thing that always drove me was the common good, and that comes from my mother, who said I should help everybody I could.”
For the past three and a half years, he’s funded a school-wide project at Bryant University to research and put out information about what is good about Rhode Island.
He’s especially prideful about his home state – he grew up in Providence – although he makes frequent trips up to Massachusetts for Patriots games each year. He’s also been to 31 Super Bowls in his lifetime, and hopes that Patriots make it to this year’s game for his 32nd.