Friends, neighbors praise the contributions of Larry Braman, who passed away December 18, 2021; Phil Giffee remembers his friend and fellow activist

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Larry Braman, who died December 18, 2021, exemplified the lifelong activism which became part of the East Boston brand. His legacy will endure mostly from his warm personality and eternal optimism in the face of long odds. Larry was a reporter, copy-editor and proofreader at the East Boston Community News. For a small salary he was also a Production Manager and a book-keeper.

In an age long before the arrival of the computer, Larry, like many after him, cut and pasted copy generated from an IBM Composer typewriter, an arduous task which made publishing a biweekly paper a marvel in itself. His reporting covered politics, racial justice, busing, the cost of living, education and, of course, the environment.

Larry faced mobility issues when the world was indifferent to the rights of the disabled. Colleagues would carry him up two flights of stairs to the Community News office at 163 Meridian Street, one of the many locations of the legendary publication. His output was prolific: Larry was part of the staff for 97 issues from August 6, 1971 to November 9, 1976. His signature innovation was the creation of crossword puzzles for the paper.

As a member of East Boston Citizen Advocates for the Rights of the Disabled (EBCARD), Larry was often quoted for stories about accessibility issues in East Boston. Friends gathered at Mt Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge on Monday, May 23, 2022 to celebrate his life.

“Hi, I’m Larry”

by Phil Giffee

Knowing Larry for 50 years, there are many wonderful memories. Ironically, they start and end with him in bed, one of his favorite places. Everyone who nursed him remembers his deep exhale, “Ahh . . . bed!” as he became Zen-like in his oneness with his mattress.

My own story with Larry began when I met Mossik Hacobian and Bob Nakashian in East Boston after I was very fortuitously assigned to join them by Fr. Mike Groden who had the vision to start the Planning Office of Urban Affairs of the Archdiocese of Boston.

As a newly minted conscientious objector (CO), I followed them to the East Boston Community News (EBCN) and the East Boston Community Development Corporation (EBCDC). They both commuted to NYC each weekend to pursue their Armenian activities. We became fast friends. I remember Mossik saying, ‘We should find a place to live and work together.’ Mossik told us he had a friend who lived in Florida, could make a down payment on a three-decker and might want to join us. ‘The situation is,’ Mossik declared,‘Larry is in a wheelchair and needs some help.’

Being in our early 20’s, inexperienced and oblivious, we said, ‘Sure, bring him up!’ Little did we know what lay ahead, but no regrets! So many grew to love him. Still do. Always will.

One hot June day, after Mossik and Lyle Jensen had brought Larry up from Florida, after some hours at the spre-EBCDC offices, I walked in our door at 112, (the singularly unattractive, narrow and inaccessible house Mossik had purchased for us). Larry was laying on his red exercise mat stark naked. I remember him turning to me in a chipper voice saying, ‘Hi, I’m Larry!’ He was like that throughout his years . . . open, exposed, vulnerable, cheerful, simple, plain, but strong. A role model to this day. Last year, as it became apparent, he was succumbing, he was often in bed, again naked, exposed, vulnerable, but still inquisitive, friendly and cheerful. Though his bony body was retreating, and he was less and less able to be up out of bed, he remained calm, composed and committed to us as his friend. His personality never wavered. In his last few days, I heard him say hoarsely, but in a matter-of-fact manner to a visitor who had inquired of his condition, ‘My doctor says this will be my last weekend.’ He passed a few days later. Lyle and I were with him late into that evening, but I had to go home. Terri (Terrilee Duncan one of his care givers) called around 6 am to deliver the news.

Larry Braman in East Boston
Photography courtesy Bob Nakashian

Fortunately, his longtime Yale friend, Lyle, was able to remain with him. Despite his increasing incapacities and soreness’s over those final months, there was no whining, not ever, from Larry. I never heard him utter the words, ‘I wish I could do __.’ He just never felt sorry for himself or his apparent physical limitation. In fact, his ‘limitation’ was turned into a gift of the universe to us all.

As we all gratefully remember him now, there were many fun, memorable and cherished times. Of the early 112 crew, I remember we all had ‘shifts’ helping Larry get mobilized for his day that started with putting him to bed at night; then, always at 3 am, getting up and going downstairs to turn him sideways to help prevent bedsores; after having breakfast, get him up on his tilt board for an hour before dressing him for the day. Fortunately, there were many helping hands, although at some point, Bob became his most reliable
and dependable go to.

In the early days of 112, some of us had jobs, some volunteered, some went to school. Others visited and stayed a day, a week, a year or maybe two. As we all know, Larry was social and since he was darn smart he also liked to work, especially at EBCN, which was on the third floor of the old Masonic building (now a Walgreen’s’ parking lot). To get him up there we had to pull him and his hefty wheelchair up 18 marble steps then one more flight of eight or ten steps to get to the spacious Community News office. There he would remain all day writing, setting type and hanging out.

Some of Larry Braman’s many articles from the early editions of the East Boston Community News

Thinking back, I cannot imagine the faith he had to have in us to grab those two narrow, hollow metal handles of his wheelchair and, step by step, lift so his wheels could ratchet up one step at a time! It’s scary to think of the consequences, but for years, at EBCN and at so many other venues, how Larry got to be with us. Grab those handles and drag him up!! Mossik could have meandered to Armenia and back
with the many steps he pulled Larry up into his and Joan’s house for dinner on Eutaw Street. Of course, Larry went on one of Mossik’s Armenian excursions, but that is Mossik’s story.

Larry’s sense of adventure never waned. I know Caroline (Bamford) took him to Paris a couple times. One adventure which still makes me smile, involved my first of many treks with him to Sarasota Florida where he would bask in his mother Gladys’ specially built pool and tilt back on multiple couches in her beautiful cedar home on the Inner Coastal Waterway. The first time I accompanied him we stuffed his yellow Volkswagen bug with our hastily packed gear and started driving one night. It was late February, sometime after Mossik debuted his Armenian film in NYC. We brought with us the Hovahnes Badalian album of Armenian music and were going to give it to Gladys, his diminutive, ever-patient, loving and highly organized mother—organized as in, ‘When Glady spoke, EF Hutton damn well better listen!’

Larry liked to drive. He had a VW that was outfitted with those funky handles he could manipulate. By the time we got to South Carolina, that red state had the biggest whiteout snowstorm in their history. The farther south we drove, the deeper the snow. No one was going to stop us.

No police or tow trucks anywhere. At Larry’s insistence we kept driving. Lewis and Clark, we were not, or at least I wasn’t. But Larry, with his penchant for delight mixed with abandonment, commanded, ‘Keep driving. This VW will go through anything.’ I-95 was littered with abandoned cars askew on the highway. Ritz cracker boxes and detritus all over. Finally, as it got dark and the snow even deeper, he relented. Using those old (pre-GPS) AAA large scale road maps, we turned and headed east to Beaufort.

As we approached the coast, the snow lessened, and the sweet smell of the south began to emerge. The next day’s Beaufort morning was
gloriously sunny. We hit Rte. 17 back to I-95 early onto Sarasota, where the good life awaited! Unfortunately, the Armenian album didn’t make it. We had stuffed it in the back seat on the floor near the heater. It now had the shape of a potato chip! Sorry, Gladys and Mr. Badalian.

Larry had more friends than anyone I know. We all loved Larry and wanted him with us. He had affection for us as well. He was often visited by or visited with others. One summer night at 112, I remember, some of us said to him, ‘Okay Larry, we’re ready for the movie now.’ Another group from EBCN was there and said, ‘Larry, I thought you said you were going to dinner with us?’ Since the house often had many unaffiliated folks, yet another cluster chimed in, ‘Larry, I thought you said we were going with us to visit so-and so?’ We all looked at Larry, who looked sheepish. I can still see him with his mischievous eyebrow raised, shoulder shrugged, innocent smile as he blurts, ‘Well-l-l-l, I guess I did say I’d go’ kind of look. He had triple-booked himself. Why? In part because he had a tough time saying, ‘no’ to anyone and so many of us wanted to include him in our own plans he just didn’t say ‘no’ to anyone. A combination of adventure, being kind, sociable, and everyone’s friend was not as easy it appears!

Any one of us could relate many wholesome stories and good times with Larry, although I must admit, some of his sayings cannot be repeated in a family memoir. For uncensored and sometimes humorous commentary, readers may head to Larry’s ‘Pith,’ a collection of gems Larry assembled and published from a note pad at 112 of simply things that were said in the kitchen. You’ll have to look that one up!

Larry was always inquisitive of Nancy, my wife, and our son, Justin to whom he was a godfather. He was a loving member of our family as he was of so many others who cherished him and still do.

I know I am blessed to have been with this courageous, humble, thoughtful, compassionate, inquisitive, humorous, self-effacing gentleman these too short but happy, gregarious, and fulfilling years. We all know, he would not have wanted us to dwell on all this, but we must a little.

Larry, we all loved you! Thank you for your patience and your love of us as well.

Phil Giffee is Executive Director of the Neighborhood of Affordable Housing, a community development corporation.

Special thanks to Bob Nakashian.

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