WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) mourns the loss of George Deukmejian, former Governor of California and inspiring Armenian American, who passed away on May 8, 2018.
George Deukmejian was elected Governor of California, and served two terms, from January 1983 to January 1991. In each of his eight state budgets, education was the state’s highest funding priority. In 1985, the California Legislature considered a bill introducing a human rights and genocide curriculum throughout the California public school system. Both the California State Senate and Assembly passed the bill in September of that year. Governor Deukmejian signed the bill into law on September 28, 1985, and the new curriculum was first printed in 1987.
“George Deukmejian was a long-time member of the Assembly, and the three tributes we had in 1987, 1988, and 2012 to honor him were well deserved. He devoted his life to public service and was an inspiration to so many young Armenian Americans. His record of contributions to the great State of California and the nation are remarkable and make us all proud,” Assembly Co-Chairs Anthony Barsamian and Van Krikorian stated.
The Assembly’s 1987 tribute banquet in honor of George Deukmejian was joined by many political leaders from across the country. President (then-Vice President) George Bush, Sr., Senator Robert “Bob” Dole (R-KS), Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Senator Larry Pressler (R-SD), Rep. Robert Dornan (R-CA), Rep. Chip Pashayan (R-CA), Massachusetts Speaker of the House George Keverian, New Jersey Assembly Majority Leader Garabed “Chuck” Haytaian, former California Assembly Majority Leader Walter Karabian, American diplomat Barry Zorthian, and presidential speechwriter Ken Khachigian, among other esteemed guests, were all in attendance. President Ronald Reagan and Governor Michael Dukakis offered special video messages of praise to Governor Deukmejian.
President Reagan noted: “The Armenian Assembly has made the right choice. This tribute is truly well deserved. George has served his community, state, and nation with great distinction.”
President Reagan continued: “Duke, you’ve also made it clear how very much your Armenian heritage means to you. As we know, many Armenian-Americans immigrated to our land under very difficult circumstances, and often with little or no money. Yet few Americans have so exemplified the essence of the American dream. With hard work they have built a new life to be proud of, they accomplished great things, and never lost sight of their fundamental values. George Deukmejian is just this sort of man. He is strong in character and long in caring. These are just some of the reasons you’re being saluted Duke.”
At the Gala, Vice President Bush spoke highly of Governor Deukmejian. “Barbara joins me in extending warm best wishes to all of those gathered for the Armenian Assembly of America tribute banquet in honor of Governor George Deukmejian. Certainly, the Armenian Assembly of America has accomplished much for the Armenian-American community in our country. All of you have a great deal of which to be proud. Even more importantly, though, Governor Deukmejian has done a great deal not only for Armenian-Americans, but for millions of Americans of all ancestries.
The following year, the Assembly honored Governor Deukmejian in Beverly Hills, California. In a congratulatory note, Bob Hope stated: “He’s one of my favorite Californians and I think he’s done a fine job as Governor.”
In his honor, the Assembly created the “Deukmejian Award for Public Service,” which is granted to individuals who embody the qualities of an exemplary public servant. Past recipients include: Kenneth L. Khachigian in 2017; Charles “Chuck” Poochigian and Deborah A. Poochigian in 2012; former Senator Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) in 2006; former Canadian Parliamentarian Sarkis Assadourian in 2005; Congressional Caucus of Armenian Issues Co-Chairs Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and former Co-Chair Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-MI) in 2004; Rep. David Dreier (R-CA) in 2003; Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues Co-Chair Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) and former Rep. John Sweeney (R-NY) in 2001; former Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian in 1998; and former Armenian Minister of Trade and Industry Garnik Nanagoulian.
During his acceptance speech in 2017, Khachigian announced: “I would like to take this opportunity to note that I believe the Armenian Assembly is really honoring George Deukmejian tonight, and not me, for his public service.”
George Deukmejian served from 1979 to 1983 as California State Attorney General. Prior to that, he served in the California State Assembly from 1962 to 1967 and in the State Senate for twelve years from 1967 to 1979, where he represented Long Beach and surrounding Southern California communities.
He was the recipient of nine honorary degrees and was Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Politics of the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. He was a Regent Emeritus of the University of California, and a former member of the Board of Trustees of California State University. During its 2013 dedication of the new Long Beach courthouse in the County of Los Angeles, it was officially named the “Governor George Deukmejian Courthouse.”
Established in 1972, the Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues. The Assembly is a 501©(3) tax-exempt membership organization.