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Austen Riggs Center Mourns the Passing of Aso O. Tavitian

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Austen Riggs Center mourns the passing of former Board of Trustees member and philanthropist Aso. O. Tavitian. On April 21, 2020, the Austen Riggs Center lost a leader, donor, a dear friend, and neighbor. Former Trustee Aso O. Tavitian died last Tuesday, after a battle with cancer, with his devoted wife, Isabella Meisinger, at his side.   

Mr. Tavitian was introduced to Riggs through his neighbors, Drs. Ed Shapiro (then Medical Director/CEO) and Donna Elmendorf (Director of the Therapeutic Community). When he joined the Board of Trustees in 1995, he made his first significant donation to the Erikson Institute endowment fund. This gift signified the beginning of a culture of giving that Tavitian would champion throughout his many years on the Board.  

During his tenure, he served as Vice Chair and as a member of the Finance, Audit, and Investment Committees. He also chaired the Development Committee and co-chaired the Campaign for the Next Generation—Riggs’ only major capital campaign that raised $8 million to build the Community Center and endow the Erikson Institute Directorship. Aso was there again as an underwriter of the Centennial Celebration last year. 

“We deeply mourn the passing of our beloved former board member, Aso Tavitian,” says Board of Trustees Chair Lisa Raskin, PhD. “Aso was a great friend to Riggs and to many of us on the Board. He was a pillar of our Board for 25 years and served as our Vice Chair with grace, generosity, and brilliant wit.”  

Tavitian was born in Bulgaria to parents who fled the Armenian genocide. Emigrating to the United States in 1961 as a cold war refugee, Aso trained as a nuclear engineer at Columbia University. “Aso and I realized our paths crossed at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, when he was doing a stint at the nuclear medicine lab, and I was a medical student,” says Riggs Medical Director/CEO Eric M. Plakun, MD. “He went on to develop a highly successful computer software company, but never forgot those who helped him along the way.”  

Out of deep gratitude, he developed the Tavitian Foundation, which has supported the education of over 350 graduate students, many of whom have gone on to serve the Republic of Armenia. His only request of his Tavitian Scholars was that someday, if they could afford it, they would help someone else. In recognition of his efforts, the government of Armenia awarded Aso their Order of Honor and Prime Minister’s Award. 

Tavitian lived a full life of generosity and integrity. He was a hugely successful businessman, entrepreneur, community leader, and a respected art collector who served on the boards of many organizations including the Council on Foreign Relations, the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace, and both the Frick Galleries and the Clark Museum.  

“If you ever were lucky enough to be invited to a party at Aso’s beautiful Stockbridge home, you were treated to wonderful food and wine, and you were always in the company of impressive people he thoughtfully brought together for the benefit of everyone attending,” recalls Dr. Raskin. 

She adds, “It is hard to fathom that we won’t have Aso’s wisdom and warmth around. He was a remarkable man who will be missed by so many people around the world. Our condolences go to his wife Isabella as we grieve with her.”   

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