By Ted AYALA
“What he did,” said Edward Lafian, treasurer of the Armenian-American Chamber of Commerce, pausing for a moment to gather his thoughts, “was bring hope to the Armenian community.”
He was referring to the late Larry Zarian, former mayor of Glendale and the first Armenian-American mayor in its history. Zarian succumbed last week after a prolonged bout with blood cancer.
Zarian, though born in Armenia and arriving in the U.S. at the age of 14, was a Glendalian through and through. Faced with difficult odds in a household without a father, Zarian learned early the value of hard work and toughness. Graduating from Glendale Community College, later transferring to UCLA, Zarian was for many in the Armenian community a symbol of the possibilities that could be achieved in their newly adopted home.
“For him to start with nothing from such a young age, go to UCLA, which wasn’t easy for a minority to do at that time, and become a success was an inspiration to all of us,” said Lafian. “He paved the way for the rest of us.”
Serving a total of 16 years as mayor, followed by stints in city council and boards of the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) and California State Transportation Commission (CTC), the mark left by Zarian has been profound, affecting Glendalians of every walk of life.
“Larry was a consummate booster for Glendale,” remembered councilperson Ara Najarian. “Larry always believed that Glendale was the greatest city in California. That love he had for the city is reflected through the various civic organizations he worked in.”
“But his work didn’t stop in Glendale. He worked hard to help people across the region,” he added.
To that end he was instrumental in the final route of the Metrolink’s Antelope Valley line, which uses Glendale as an important and very busy hub, ensuring that Pasadena would be on the Gold Line route, and the creation of the Glendale Beeline.
Under Zarian’s mayoralty, Glendale also saw some of the biggest improvements and renovations in its history.
“There was a time that you could throw a brick clear down Brand Boulevard and not hit a thing,” said Lafian. “Larry changed that. It was his vision that saw the renovation of the Brand Blvd. corridor. It’s not easy to develop something new. You had a lot of people in this city that were set in their old-fashioned ways. But Larry kept true to that vision. He was definitely a pioneer.”
But his friends and colleagues also recalled a man of generous spirit, always ready to dispense advice or snip in with a joke.
“He was a joker, no doubt about that,” said Lafian. “A real wise guy. He always had this big, broad smile on his face, and a joke always at the ready.”
Glendale’s current mayor, Laura Friedman, also shared her memories of her predecessor and the vital role he played in Glendale’s civic life.
“After my election, he became something of a mentor to me. He was never shy with his opinions, but also understood the pressure under which council members operate. He was someone I could always turn for support.
“He was a wonderful ambassador for our city,” added the mayor. “A figure recognizable across the state and nation.”