Carmen George

Roxie Moradian still a bright light for Fresno at 102

Roxie Moradian has led “an interesting life” as friends with William Saroyan and Charlie Chaplin. In the background is her caregiver, Anais Gaspryan.
Roxie Moradian has led “an interesting life” as friends with William Saroyan and Charlie Chaplin. In the background is her caregiver, Anais Gaspryan.

Roxie Moradian was born 11/12/13.

1913. That’s before the start of World War I.

This generous benefactor of Fresno was friends with writer William Saroyan, danced with actor Charlie Chaplin, knew President Ronald Reagan and bought a dress from designer Coco Chanel during a three-month vacation in Paris.

Watching Moradian on Thursday in her large, sunlit home overlooking the San Joaquin River in northwest Fresno, I also see an extraordinarily beautiful person, not just a woman who has lived a long and privileged life.

She walks in by herself pushing a walker, her joyful greeting and bright smile filling up the room. Once a Gottschalks model, she’s still lovely like an adorable doll.

Our birthdays are two days – although a few years – apart, and we delight in this.

“Oh, we have to celebrate!” she says. “Oh, I’ll take you to the club.”

“That would be fun, that would be fun,” I say, all giggles. “I’d love to go clubbing together.”

I’m pretty sure “going to the club” means something else to a 102-year-old, but I indulge my imagination for a moment thinking about how awesome that would be, clubbing like a Kardashian with Roxie Moradian.

I’m captivated and fascinated by this kind, warm woman.

I’m captivated and fascinated by this kind, warm woman. I want to know more about her definition of a club and everything else she can possibly tell me about the world she has known.

Her birthday is why I’m here, but there are a lot of other reasons to write about this patron of Fresno, as scores of other reporters before me also saw.

To give you an idea, searching through The Fresno Bee’s archive, I found more than 50 stories with her name in it, just going back to 1990.

Born in Selma, her Armenian family’s rise to wealth is pure American Dream. They had little after coming to the United States from Turkey, and Moradian’s father worked hard in agriculture, eventually inventing a grape bleaching machine in Fowler to make the first “golden raisin,” which earned him fame and fortune.

As a young woman, Moradian – then Roxie Mooradian, with two Os – met her husband, Frank Moradian, while working in the office of a farming company.

She later gave him money to purchase Penny Newman Grain Company in Fresno.

She mentions this briefly with humility, like she had nothing to do with it.

“I was lucky,” she says. “But he was smart.”

I wonder what it must have been like to be a woman in the early 20th century.

Her spacious home is clean and filled with books and magazines. She also reads the San Francisco Chronicle and The Bee (what a gal!) every day.

She went to Fresno State for two years and graduated from Four Cs Business College in Fresno. She studied typing, shorthand and history.

“You’ve got an interesting job,” she tells me at one point, and we share a smile. I can’t help but imagine this woman going to school for journalism instead of typing had she been born a few decades later.

Our conversation is dominated by talk of Saroyan. She brings him up again and again, repeating a few favorite memories.

“You know,” she says, “my husband told Saroyan one time, ‘Roxy reads too slow. She reads every word in the book!’ 

Saroyan would reply, “Don’t say that! We put that in the book to be read!”

Saroyan rode his bicycle to their home every Sunday for lunch and went running alongside the river below their house.

“You know, when Saroyan would come here, he’d say, ‘Why do you want to go on a vacation? Best view in the world is right here!’ He grew up with my husband, they were next-door neighbors, and they had lost their fathers that died, and his mother always told my husband, ‘Tell him to go to work. He thinks he’s going to be a writer.’

“My husband said, ‘You know, Bill, your mother told me to say that but no, you write.’ He encouraged him.”

She really misses Saroyan.

“He was a character. He was an odd person, but I liked him a lot because he liked me. He really liked me. I don’t mean love, just respect and like me.”

“I can write a book on Saroyan,” she says with a laugh after telling a story about how the “richest man in Fresno” overheard Saroyan call him a “tightwad” after the man tipped Frank Moradian 5 cents when the boys sold newspapers together growing up.

When Frank Moradian came into money, he was no cheapskate.

“My husband, he wouldn’t tell anyone, but he helped a lot of people. … Some of them I didn’t even know. They told me later, after he died.”

Roxie Moradian has helped a lot of people, too. She continues to give generously to many local organizations – hospitals, schools and humanitarian groups that help the poor and homeless.

I don’t think there is anyone anywhere who has done so much for this Fresno community.

Second cousin Sandy Lynch

She’s a founding member of the San Joaquin Valley Town Hall lecture series, and her husband had the idea to start the Fresno Philharmonic after meeting a conductor at a luncheon. There’s also a Frank and Roxie Moradian Gallery of French Art at the Fresno Art Museum.

Of all this monetary giving, she says simply, “Why should I keep it if I can help?”

Advice for living to 102? “I don’t smoke, I’ve never smoked. I don’t drink. At a party, I’ll take a glass of wine, and I don’t finish it.”

Breakfast is cereal, cantaloupe and coffee. Lunch is a little meat, salad and a vegetable. Dinner is small and something similar to lunch. Anais Gaspryan, her in-home caregiver for the past eight years, handles the cooking.

When Moradian was younger, she enjoyed playing golf, tennis and bridge.

Her legs look like she’s a 45-year-old girl. She’s just so well-kept.

Second cousin Sandy Lynch

Moradian never had children, but at 102, she still seems amazingly busy with her own affairs. When I called to schedule the interview for this column, she checked, double-checked and triple-checked her calendar to make sure she could fit me in.

She loves Fresno, particularly the weather and the people. She’s not worried about its future: “Oh, no, no, no. I’m not, no.”

It seems she has great faith in the people she believes will care for the place long after she’s gone.

“Take interest in a lot of things here, you know,” she says as encouragement. “Help things in Fresno.”

We talk for a long while. I can tell she’s getting tired, but I keep asking questions, hungry for this nugget of inspirational wisdom to emerge. Then I realize I’m witnessing it.

She’s tired but she keeps answering my questions with patience and kindness. She keeps smiling that beautiful, warm smile. She’s a champion.

I’ve never seen a stronger human being.

Second cousin Sandy Lynch

I ask her how people should be treated.

“Well, I think they should respect each other. Respect, respect.”

When I get back to the office, I start reading Saroyan, and I come upon something I imagine was inspired by the smile of the wonderful woman I just met:

“In the time of your life, live – so that in that wondrous time you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the infinite delight and mystery of it.”

Carmen George: 559-441-6386, @CarmenGeorge