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Peter Aaron Goolkasian

A Second Life: Peter Goolkasian PhG '32

  • Peter Aharon Goolkasian PhG ’32 was only five when his family was caught up in the ethnic purges against Armenian citizens by the Turkish army at the outset of World War I. After the adult men in his village were rounded up and taken away, never to be seen again, Goolkasian’s three young brothers, two sisters, mother, and grandmother were driven into the Syrian Desert along with many other women and children.

    By the end of the war two years later, all the members of the family except for Peter and his mother had perished due to starvation, disease, and the harsh conditions of the desert. Mother and son were rescued by the Armenian church, who helped them from Aleppo to France.

    Desperate to find some traces of her extended family, Peter’s mother added a note to an America-bound bundle of letters from another survivor, hoping to reach her few remaining relatives. Thanks to the tight bonds of the Armenian-American community, her long-shot message was successful, and three months later Peter and his mother journeyed to Worcester, Massachusetts, to reunite with their extended family. According to a profile in the Foxboro Reporter published in July of 1986, the reunion was delayed for several hours when Peter stopped to gaze at a statue in downtown Worcester and became separated from his mother. To his recollection, he became very lost and scared before being aided by a friendly police officer, who bought him his first-ever ice cream cone and helped him locate his family.

    The family settled in Charlestown, Massachusetts, where Peter was able to enroll in school and begin the arduous process of catching up on all the education he’d missed, all while learning English (he already spoke Turkish, Arabic, Kurdish, and some French). Peter’s uncle Bagdasar “Baxter” Goolkasian PhG ‘16, who owned a pharmacy, gave the teenaged Peter his first job; perhaps because of this experience, Peter chose the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy after graduating from high school. It became a family tradition that would stretch far into the future. Not only did Peter become a pharmacist, but so did his stepbrothers A. Richard and George; his cousin Charles; his step-sister Alice and her husband Richard; his niece Donna and nephew Ara; and his wife, Isabelle, whom he met while enrolled at then-MCP. The Goolkasian family, in fact, became so synonymous with Massachusetts College of Pharmacy that A. Richard Goolkasian BSP ’45 worked as the acting editor of the alumni magazine, the Bulletin, for many years.

    For Peter, pharmacy was just one of many ways he found to exercise his scientific imagination; over the years, he pursued interests in chemistry and electronics, developing and patenting several inventions including “tooth-ease pads”, birthday candles whose wicks burned in a variety of colored flames, a pulse monitor for surgical use, and (long before the invention of the tape recorder) an audio recording device housed in a Coca-Cola box for use by his young daughter, Dianne, as she learned to play the piano. (Eventually, Dianne evolved into a world-renowned composer whose works, both playful and tender, show Armenian musical influence.)

    Peter Goolkasian embraced the American experience, taking full advantage of every opportunity to pursue his talents and dreams, while encouraging his family to pursue theirs. The Foxboro Reporter’s 1986 profile ends on a hopeful note, as the survivor reflects on his successful second life in America: “I have a great feeling for America and the freedom it offers,” Goolkasian said to reporter Jack Authelet. “When you get interested in any subject, whatever it is, you can follow it. That is a great thing.”