At 103, Roxie Moradian still had what one family member describes as “joie de vivre” – a French phrase meaning a “cheerful enjoyment of life.”
“Synonyms: Joyfulness, cheerfulness, lighthearted, happiness, gaiety,” continued Barbara Vartan, whose mother was a cousin of Mrs. Moradian’s late husband.
This bright woman, a prominent Fresno philanthropist, died March 3. She was 103.
“She was like a movie star,” said her second cousin, Sandy Lynch. “Well, she was a movie star for Fresno.”
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Indeed, Mrs. Moradian and her late husband, businessman Frank Moradian, knew people including actor Charlie Chaplin, fashion designer Coco Chanel, and President Ronald Reagan, along with counting writer William Saroyan as a close friend.
She was very gregarious, happy and just joyful.
The Moradians played key roles in the development of a number of Fresno groups, including the Fresno Philharmonic, the Fresno Art Museum and the San Joaquin Valley Town Hall lecture series. After Frank Moradian’s death in 1987, Mrs. Moradian continued to give generously to those groups and many others, including Fresno State, UC San Francisco, Valley Children’s Hospital, the Fresno Rescue Mission, Poverello House, and Armenian causes in Fresno and abroad.
The arts were especially dear to her. There is a Frank and Roxie Moradian Gallery of French Art at the Fresno Art Museum.
“I think it was important for her to have beautiful things in the community, and for the young people to be able to see these things,” said friend Mary LaFollette. “I just think she liked having all of these things available for her own enjoyment and the rest of the community also.”
I would like her legacy to be an inspiration for another generation – to take an interest in the community and the arts.
Mrs. Moradian remained active and lived independently, with the help of caretakers, in her large, sunlit home overlooking the San Joaquin River in north Fresno until she fell and broke her ankle Dec. 12. After surgery, she was recovering at the Terraces at San Joaquin Gardens, then contracted pneumonia in mid-February.
Mrs. Moradian pushed through pain with incredible resilience.
“She was happy, even when she was hurting,” Lynch said. “She tried to grin and bear it.”
We come from a race of people who have to fight hard to stay alive. She would always give it her all, even if she was hurting.
Mrs. Moradian, whose legal first name was Araxi, was born Nov. 12, 1913, in Selma. Her Armenian father had little after immigrating from Turkey and worked hard in his new central San Joaquin Valley home, eventually inventing a grape-bleaching machine to make the first “golden raisin,” which earned him fame and fortune. His daughter would share her inherited wealth with her husband, helping him purchase the Penny Newman Grain Co. in Fresno.
The company is led by Mike Nicoletti, who worked for Frank Moradian and considered him a second father.
“They were classy people,” Nicoletti said of the Moradians. “They were people of substance … and I don’t mean that monetarily. They were people of great character, great integrity, people that would naturally become a leader in the community.”
Nicoletti recalls Roxie as strong-willed and plain-spoken.
“If she was pleased with you, she would let you know,” he said, “and if she wasn’t, she would let you know.”
She was also gregarious, with “great social grace.”
“She could go anywhere,” Nicoletti said. “You could take her to a baseball game and she’d fit right in, or if she was sitting next to the queen of England, she’d know just what to do and say.”
Mrs. Moradian stayed sharp into her final days, insisting on balancing her checkbook to the penny and reading numerous newspapers and magazines. Among the lineup was the men’s magazine GQ – an unusual choice considering she so disapproved of seeing shirtless men in print that she’d rip out those pages and throw them in the trash, Lynch recalled.
But shirtless men aside, GQ remained just another way for her to stay in tune with the happenings of society. Extended family member Barbara Jean Berberian said Mrs. Moradian was always up-to-date and anything but backward. She recalled how Mrs. Moradian – also a Gottschalks model – was the first woman she ever saw wearing a Coco Chanel pantsuit.
Red was her favorite color. She liked to be bright and she just sparkled.
Sandy Lynch, second cousin
The Moradians traveled the world, with Paris, Portugal and Japan being among Mrs. Moradian’s favorite destinations.
Her husband adored her.
“He would always say, ‘Isn’t Roxie beautiful? Isn’t Roxie wonderful?’ ” Berberian recalled. “I think when you have a husband like that, it really gives you a lot of spirit, or whatever you want to call it.”
Mrs. Moradian was able to walk by herself, with the assistance of a walker, until her recent accident, and reviewed her three calendars and datebooks with delight.
“She lived for every day, whatever was on her agenda,” Lynch said. “She was always on the go and loved life.”
Born: Nov. 12, 1913
Died: March 3, 2017
Survivors: Numerous cousins, nieces and nephews
Visitation: 1 to 5 p.m. through Sunday at the Chapel of the Light, 1620 W. Belmont Ave., Fresno.
Celebration of life service: 10:30 a.m. March 30 at the Fresno Art Museum, 2233 N. First St., Fresno.
Remembrances: Fresno Art Museum, 2233 N. First St., Fresno, or the Fresno Philharmonic, 7170 N. Financial Drive, Suite 135, Fresno.