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Edward Avedisian, clarinetist who donated $100 million to BU’s medical school, dies at 85

Mr. Avedisian (left) joined his longtime friend Dr. Aram Chobanian during September's celebration of Mr. Avedisian’s donation of $100 million to Boston University's medical school.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

For decades, Edward Avedisian used the fortune he made through wise investing to support education efforts from Boston to Rhode Island to his parents’ homeland of Armenia.

As humble as he was generous, he always honored relatives and friends with his donations, preferring to keep his own name off the marquee. In Armenia, a public school bears his parents’ names and a university building is named for his brother. In Rhode Island, his sister’s name is on a nursing school.

And this year, when Mr. Avedisian made his largest ever donation — $100 million to Boston University’s medical school — he wanted to name the institution for Dr. Aram V. Chobanian, a former BU president and friend since they were growing up in Rhode Island. But Chobanian said his own name could only be used if the school honored Mr. Avedisian, too, so it became the Boston University Aram V. Chobanian and Edward Avedisian School of Medicine.

“I didn’t want anything named after me,” Mr. Avedisian told BU in September. “But he said, ‘I’ll only do this if your name is attached.’ So we’re attached.”


Mr. Avedisian, a clarinetist who formerly performed for decades with the Boston Pops and the Boston Ballet Orchestra, died Dec. 7 of complications from a rare lung disease. He was 85 and lived in Lexington.

“Ed Avedisian brightened our world with music and has improved the lives of countless individuals through his mindful philanthropy,” Robert A. Brown, BU’s president, said for the university’s tribute.

And he did so with a smile, those closest to him said.

“Ed was a fun-loving guy with an extraordinary sense of humor,” said his wife, Pamela Wood Avedisian, with whom he contributed millions to schools and universities over the years. “He was always smiling and laughing.”


Mr. Avedisian and Chobanian both had lost relatives to the Armenian genocide. Though both rose far from their working-class, Pawtucket, R.I., neighborhood, Mr. Avedisian initially thought it made more sense to name the medical school only for the better-known Chobanian, a renowned cardiologist and a dean emeritus of the medical school.

“Who knows me? Nobody,” Mr. Avedisian told the Globe in late September, though even he must have known that was a considerable understatement.

He was revered in his parents’ home country after he and Pamela announced plans, in 1994, to launch a public school in Armenia named for his parents, Koren and Shooshanig Avedisian School. It opened in 1999, in one the poorest neighborhoods of the capital city of Yerevan, with 75 students and now educates 1,000 annually, from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, according to his family.

“It only recently occurred to me that he was providing to these children the same path out of poverty that he followed in America, but did so without requiring them to leave the country,” his nephew Craig Avedisian of New York City said via e-mail.

Mr. Avedisian, who also funded a medical center and other health care initiatives in Armenia, donated $3 million to Rhode Island College’s School of Nursing, which is now named for his sister, Zvart Avedisian Onanian.

“We wanted to give families that do not have the means an opportunity to get a good education,” he told the Globe in January, adding: “That’s what we are supposed to do after all — reaching out and helping others.”


Mr. Avedisian amassed a fortune by being as attentive to the financial markets as he was to the notes on scores he played in performances.

“Success is the intersection of opportunity and preparation,” he told the Globe in October, and added that “you had to do your homework.”

His preparation including bringing financial publications and other research along on any road trips with the Pops or to perform with numerous other organizations, which over the years included the Atlanta and North Carolina symphonies, Boston Lyric Opera, the Harvard Chamber Orchestra, the Armenian State Philharmonic, and the National Chamber Orchestra of Armenia.

Although Mr. Avedisian used his philanthropy to support music, health care, and area Armenian organizations, he said his immigrant parents, Koren Avedisian and Shooshanig Ingilizian Avedisian, were the principal inspiration behind directing a great deal of his efforts and money to schools and universities.

“Our parents always emphasized education. School and education were the first words I learned in Armenian and in English,” he said in the January interview. “They never wanted us to work in a mill like them.”

The third of four siblings, Edward Avedisian was born in Pawtucket on June 23, 1937, and was president of his graduating class at what is now William E. Tolman High School in Pawtucket.

He graduated from BU with a bachelor’s degree in 1959 and a master’s in 1961, both in music.


Along with being a working clarinetist, Mr. Avedisian formerly held positions that included serving as artistic administrator of the Harvard Chamber Orchestra, and he worked on securing union contracts for organizations such as the Boston Ballet Orchestra.

Mr. Avedisian, who retired about 20 years ago, formerly was the personnel manager for the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra as it performed alongside many artists, including Tony Bennett, Whitney Houston, Luciano Pavarotti, and Big Bird from “Sesame Street.”

Among musicians, Mr. Avedisian never wore his financial success on his sleeve, literally or metaphorically.

“He was just a regular guy,” recalled Dennis Alves, director of artistic planning for the Pops. “He wasn’t wearing expensive clothes or fancy watches.”

Mr. Avedisian, who taught clarinet at BU and Endicott College, met Pamela Wood at Endicott in 1973. She had decided against pursuing a career as a concert pianist and heard he was conducting the college’s all-women’s chorus.

“I walked into his classroom and asked him if he needed an accompanist for the chorus,” she said.

They started dating five years later and married in 1994.

“He was full of such wisdom and always knew the right thing to say,” Pamela said. “That is what I will miss.”

In addition to his wife, Mr. Avedisian leaves his sister, Zvart Onanian of East Greenwich R.I., and his brother, Paul of Cranston R.I.

A memorial gathering will be announced for Mr. Avedisian, who was often honored for his philanthropy, including with the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.


Serzh Sargsyan, a former president of Armenia, twice awarded him the Medal of Movses Khorenatsi, which recognizes outstanding achievements in areas such as art, culture, literature, and education.

The University of Rhode Island and BU awarded honorary doctorates to Mr. Avedisian.

“Not only has he been a great friend,” Chobanian said for BU’s tribute, “his death means to me that the world has lost a great humanitarian who dedicated his life to helping those in need.”

Mr. Avedisian always insisted that the lessons offered by their Armenian immigrant parents were the foundation of his and Chobanian’s successes in life, which in turn led to their names being joined for BU’s medical school.

“Our parents told us, ‘Hey, get an education.’ So that was the call, and this was our response,” he told the Globe in September. “They’re the heroes, not us. That’s the way I look at it.”

Bryan Marquard can be reached at