Tribute – Ralph Papakhian

On January 14, 2010, we lost our esteemed colleague, friend, and mentor Ralph Papakhian. These are the tributes collected in Ralph’s honor. 

Tribute to Ralph Papakhian

The Music Library Association, Midwest Chapter mourns the loss of our esteemed colleague, friend, and mentor. Rest well, Ralph.

Ruthann McTyre, President of the Music Library Association, posted the following message to the MLA listserv to let us know of Ralph’s death.

It is with great sadness that I pass along the news that our dear friend and colleague Ralph Papakhian died this morning at his home in Bloomington, Indiana. He was with his wife, Mary, and other family members. At this time, we don’t have information about funeral arrangements but we will share them as we learn them.

Throughout his career, Ralph was active in the Music Library Association, and he made significant contributions to the association as an officer, committee chair, and author. He served on the board of directors as assistant fiscal officer and fiscal officer (1986-88) and executive secretary (1988-92). In 1992, he was awarded MLA’s Special Achievement Award for his “countless efforts to bring the Association into the electronic age of communications”–most notably, for his role in founding MLA-L in 1989–and in 2008 was presented the MLA Citation in recognition of his distinguished service to the profession. He received two Richard S. Hill Awards for the best article on music librarianship: the first in 1985 for the article (written with Richard Smiraglia) “Music in the OCLC Online Union Catalog: A Review” and the second in 2002 for his article “Cataloging,” both published in NOTES.

Ralph was best known for his work as a music cataloger. He was a model practitioner and teacher. Beginning in the late 1970s, he taught classes and supervised internships for library students enrolled in the music specialization offered by IU’s School of Library and Information Science. In the mid-1990s, he and Sue Stancu instituted a summer cataloging workshop, and each year the roster for the workshop filled within days and names were added to a waiting list. Over the years, he trained innumerable music catalogers–dozens, if not hundreds–and he instilled in each the importance of accuracy, curiosity, and intellectual rigor.

Ralph served as vice-chair and chair of the Music OCLC Users Group, and he was the driving force behind the NACO Music Project, a cooperative effort to manage and build a database of authorized music headings. In 2005, MOUG presented Ralph with its Distinguished Service Award in recognition of his contributions to the group and to the profession of music cataloging.

We will remember Ralph for his brilliant intellect, his principled approach to cataloging, and the spirited fights he waged for what he knew to be right. His calm, serene manner belied the fire in his mind and spirit. When he described how a cataloger makes a decision “in the heat of the cataloging moment,” we all laughed, because the anxiety and struggle implied by the words seemed so foreign to Ralph’s character. The heat was there, though; he kept it contained and controlled.

The last time I saw Ralph, I believe, was at the 2005 Vancouver meeting. A group of us had gone out for dinner and on the way back to the hotel, Ralph lit up a big cigar and was happily puffing his way down the street. Just this week I ran across Casey Mullin’s blog written during his cataloging internship with Ralph at Indiana. In the closing paragraph, Casey writes “Ralph asked me today two things: have I learned enough and have I had fun.” Ralph taught so many of us along the way in so many ways and yes, Ralph, with you we did have fun.

I’m sure we all have Ralph stories to tell, and I encourage you to share them as we mourn our loss of Ralph and celebrate his life as a mentor, colleague, and friend.

–Ruthann B. McTyre

Ralph’s Obituary. The print version is in the Bloomington Herald Times, Jan 15, 2010.

Arsen (Ralph) Papakhian, 61
December 28, 1948 – January 14, 2010

Arsen (Ralph) Papakhian died at his home in Bloomington on Thursday morning following a 16-year struggle against colorectal cancer. He was born in Detroit to parents Rev. Souren and Shoushanig Papakhian and was very proud of his Armenian heritage. He married Mary Lynn (Johnson) at St. Sarkis Armenian Apostolic Church in 1967. He was the loving and beloved father of four children and five grandchildren. He loved books and music, and earned a Master of Arts in music history and a Master of Library Science from Western Michigan University. After graduation he was employed as a music cataloger at the University of Florida, and then he came to Indiana University as a music librarian in 1973. He worked at the William and Gayle Cook Music Library until his death. He enjoyed his profession and his many colleagues at IU and in the Music Library Association. He was a gentle, kind, yet fiercely brave man who advocated for peace and social justice.

He lives on in the minds of the many relatives, friends, and colleagues who knew and loved him. Survivors include his wife, Mary; daughter Anahid Papakhian and her husband Robert Cassidy and granddaughters Nazani and Zella Cassidy; son Vahan Papakhian and his wife Rachel (Barrow) and grandsons Avedis and Aren and granddaughter Lucine Papakhian; daughter Maral Papakhian; son Zaven Papakhian and his wife Amber Shirey; brother Asbed (Victor) Papakhian and his wife Sosi (Dolkarian) and nieces Lily and Sareen Papakhian; sister Salpie (Papakhian) Hughes and niece Noreen (Hughes) and her husband Scott and their son Rhys Mollon; and brother- and sister-in-law Gary and Jeannie (Johnson) Hudkins.

He was preceded in death by his parents, his sister-in-law Lynda Kay Johnson, his parents-in-law Dr. Thomas D. and Cecelia E. Johnson, and his brother-in-law David R. Hughes.

According to his wishes, there will be no funeral, burial or memorial services. Memorial contributions may be made to the Society for Armenian Studies, WFIU, the Music Library Association, or the charity of your choice. Everyone is welcome to call or send a note to his residence to offer condolences.

Here are a few photos of Ralph taken over the years:

Obituary photo (large)
Obituary photo (large)
At an unidentified MLA meeting (large)
At an unidentified MLA meeting (large)
IU Cataloging crew, March 2007 (large)
IU Cataloging crew, March 2007 (large)
At an unidentified MLA meeting (small)
At an unidentified MLA meeting (small)
Eating pizza at Mother Bear's
Eating pizza at Mother Bear’s


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