When I arrived on this good earth, my father, mother and grandmother welcomed me with their love and joy. And they had a very precious gift for me at this first moment in my life: a “big brother” — my brother, Jean, 10 years of age when I was born.
Until just a few weeks ago Jean was never far away. For many years I shared a bedroom with him. Jean kept his side of the room in perfect order, his bed always made up before he left for work. Mine was a work in progress with not much progress to see. Jean could have complained loudly and asked our mother, What’s with him? But he never did.
I was only 7 years old when our father died. Jean was 17. Without being asked he took on the responsibility of fatherhood. He was as good a son as a widowed mother could wish. He kept his smile and positive attitude, took me and my little sister, Marie-Lise, on walks, showed me how to ride a bicycle, and later yet, taught me how to drive. A 1940 grey Dodge, the first car our family ever owned.
I was so worried when Jean for the first time parked the “new” old Dodge in front of the attached brick house he had rented in Forest Hills, Queens, a few blocks from the West Side Tennis Club, at 67-122 Burns Street. We lived there for about two years. It’s a long time ago, but I still remember the address. Would the car get stolen? I checked in the middle of the night. It was still there, a reminder of our new American life.
In spite of my learning mistakes, climbing on sidewalks or stopping too abruptly, Jean remained patient and involved. I became a driver thanks to him. The 1940 Dodge was traded in for a 1957 Plymouth. By then I was the somewhat impatient driver I still am, while Jean, all his life, would always drive with patience, mindful of the comfort of his passengers, family and friends.
Jean was a man of peace. How perfect that he would join the United Nations. In 1946, he and I were enjoying a rare vacation in the French Alps when he received an urgent telegram from our mother: “Please come back to Paris, there’s a message from the U.N.” Thus began Jean’s long and successful career in that organization.
Jean worked closely under every secretary general and was a witness to many world events. After 18 years as director of the Division of the General Assembly Affairs, he became a senior fellow of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research, where for 25 years he taught a large number of diplomats. He was one of the pioneers of Model U.N., spoke to large assemblies of students from all over the world and was an instrumental figure of the “U.N. Semester” co-organized by Drew University.
My brother was recognized by governments and universities for his contribution to the United Nations and world peace. His awards:
• Officer of the Order of La pleiade,
• Knight of the Order of the Legion of Honor, France,
• Officer of the Order of Vasco Nunez de Balboa, Panama,
• Doctor of Letters, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Va.,
• Doctor of Law, Bentley College, Waltham, Mass.,
• Doctor of Humane Letters, Drew University, Madison, N.J.
• On Dec. 4, 2013, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon honored him during the 50th anniversary of UNITAR.
Jean was a wonderful teacher, as he proved to be at UNITAR. He was a teacher, too, in his personal life, as he guided my sister and me in our lives in Paris, in Brittany and here in New York.
Jean had an exceptional ability with languages. French, English, Russian, Spanish — he spoke them all. He never bragged about it. He remained humble, no matter how impressive his achievements might be.
Years and years ago my sister found a lost dog on our street. She brought the dog home. Jean wasn’t so sure we should keep the dog. A somewhat overweight black-and-white fox terrier kind of dog. Jean said, We don’t need a dog. But let’s keep him (her?) until we find a home for the dog. We found a home quickly. Our own house. We named the dog Loulou. It was a girl. She was not overweight. She was pregnant. Soon the puppies arrived and we got them adopted. From her first moment in the house Loulou followed Jean everywhere. She became Jean’s dog for the rest of her life. And she barked at me in a not-so-reassuring way. With Jean she was an angel.
On Jan. 18, 2016, our brother, Jean, passed away. He was 93. My dear brother, you are still with us. You will always be. Your room in the little house in Orient, Long Island, will remain just the way you left it. It’s yours forever.
Photo Caption: The author, holding a teddy bear, sits on the shoulders of his big brother, Jean. (Credit: Courtesy photo)
Pierre Gazarian is a poet and a writer of one-act plays. Email: [email protected]