AGNES NORSIGIAN
(1922-2009)

 

 

 

Agnes Germagian was born in Newton, MA on Aug 12, 1922. She was the first-born child to Setrag and Berjouhi Germagian, who also were parents to Helen, Matilda, and Hank Germagian. Her oldest sister, Alice, was born in Istanbul, Turkey to Berjouhi and her first husband, Levon Palanjian, who deserted the Turkish army to join the Armenian resistance in the mountains. (Berjouhi , not knowing if her husband Levon was dead or alive, came to the United States for an arranged marriage with Setrag. She was reunited with her daughter Alice, when Alice was fourteen years old.)


Agnes excelled in her school studies, was a proficient violinist, and graduated from Northbridge High School as the valedictorian. Unable to fulfill her dream to become a physician, she became a phlebotomist by studying at the Franklin Technical Institute in Philadelphia. For many years she drew and tested blood samples from hospitalized patients.


While working at Massachusetts General Hospital, she rented a room in the home of an Armenian family in Watertown and fell in love with the book collection of Garabed Charles Norsigian, a family member then stationed with the US Army in Fresno, California. (Included in this collection were books by George Dewey, Bertrand Russell, and George Santayana, - all among Charles’ favorite writers.) To everyone’s amazement, Agnes took off by train for the West coast and joined Charles pretty much unannounced. (Years later she never was able to provide much of an explanation for why she did this, other than the fact she loved his books!)
An unintended pregnancy shortly after she arrived in Fresno led to Agnes’ and Charles’ marriage on Dec 6, 1944. Though not a happy union (friends and family alike long commented on their profound unsuitability for one another), Agnes later noted that their marriage probably saved her husband’s life. (Most if not all of his Army cohort were later killed in the South Pacific, but he was allowed to stay behind because of his new status as a husband and father.)

In California, they had their first-born child, Gary (Sept 5, 1945). Back in Boston, Agnes and Charles had 4 more children (Judy in 1948, Lisa in 1950, Cedric in 1954, and Roy in 1956). In 1953 they moved into a home on Charles River Rd in Watertown, where Agnes spent most of the next 55 years. In Dec 2007, she moved to Newton to live with her daughter Judy’s household and died there peacefully on March 3, 2009, after a sudden and massive brain bleed (stroke) on March 1.


Agnes was active in the League of Women Voters, the PTA, the parent organization for the Greater Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra, and various other civic groups. She worked for Adlai Stevenson’s presidential campaigns in 1952 and 1956. As her children got older, she went back into the workforce as a lab technician working in such facilities as MIT, St Elizabeth’s Hospital and St. John of God Hospital in Brighton, MA.


Agnes loved to dance, swim and skate and was always very athletic. She encouraged her children to take music lessons but did not play the violin very much herself after the age of 30 or so. She was “confidante” to many of her children’s friends, often inspiring them to take up new interests and experiment with new ideas.


In her late 40’s she developed an interest in Yoga and became a beloved yoga teacher for more than 35 years. She taught at senior citizen centers, the Gold Gym, World Fellowship in Conway, NH, and at her own and Judy’s home in Watertown and Newton. She practiced yoga right up to the day she had the massive stroke.


She loved to travel to distant places and even trekked in the Himalayas by herself. Her experiences on Indian trains (where she often traveled alone with locals, not first class) made clear that she had some sort of fairy godmother with her at all times. She even once found herself locked in a cemetery in Istanbul with a caretaker who had less-than-honorable intentions, but somehow she talked her way out of what likely would have been a sexual assault. At the age of 60 she made one very long trip around the world, starting off with longtime friend Norma Swenson and then staying on in India (after Norma returned to the U.S.) to study yoga with Iyengar at the Iyengar Yoga Institute in Pune.


Agnes was in many ways an “original” feminist. She did not typically use the language of feminism, but she lived the life of a woman seeking to be a whole person, unconstrained by the narrow societal expectations of women. She was always helpful to strangers and generous with her time and advice. She admired the women of the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective and often helped out with various editions of the book, Our Bodies, Ourselves. She frequently hosted foreign visitors and even nursed them back to health when they became sick.


In October 2000 Agnes traveled with Judy to Armenia to attend the Armenian International Women’s Association (AIWA) conference in Yerevan. She also worked with the women who were in the final stages of producing the first Armenian edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves. She danced with many strangers, enjoyed Armenian food and hospitality, and gave many of her famous foot massages. One senior cancer researcher became especially fond of her exuberance and renegade style. Along with her oldest sister Alice, she visited orphanages and nursing homes, always asking how they might be of help. Once, she and my aunt purchased a carload of food and delivered it via taxi to an orphanage, where the staff did not have adequate supplies for meal preparation. She was always a DOER and had little patience for those who did not “walk the talk.”


Agnes was a proponent of eating nutritious foods and getting adequate exercise. Sometimes her judgmental tone was off-putting, but her genuine concern for each person’s good health usually compensated for the harsher words. Her healthy cooking was legendary, her foot massages either torturous or blissful, her exercises on “the Pezzi ball” often miraculous in their ability to heal, and her generosity famous. No one had more stamina or a stronger work ethic.


Unfortunately, Agnes grew up during a time and in a family that actively discouraged her, as a woman, from pursuing her dream of becoming a physician. Nonetheless, she found a way to have other life adventures that took courage and creativity. She was a loving and supportive mother even with all the lectures about what her children should do differently. Her willingness to speak up about what she believed in often gave inspiration to others to do so as well. This “Mother-at-Large” will be missed by so many who became part of her large, “chosen” family.