Varoujan John Messerlian passed away peacefully at his home in Rothesay on February 27, 2021 with his devoted wife and family at his side after a long battle with cancer. Born on August 29th, 1933, John is survived by his adoring wife, Elene Messerlian, and their three children Serge (Tina; Alex and Giselle), Carmen (Daniel; Mateo and Finley), and Lara (Brian).
It was said by the famous Greek philosopher, Socrates, that "the unexamined life is not worth living." We cannot fully appreciate the meaning of the arc of our lives until we examine it in retrospect.
Born in Beirut, Lebanon, John was a child of the Armenian diaspora. His parents survived the Armenian genocide as child orphans at the hands of the Turkish Ottoman Empire in 1915 and settled in Beirut. Little is known of their history and heritage.
This painful backdrop and history often weighed heavily on John and shaped his worldview from an early age. Proudly Armenian, John was also a citizen of the world and a great humanitarian, always striving throughout his life to promote values of diversity and inclusion of all peoples and cultures. That devotion to human equality and education were at the heart of what he stood for, and further reflected in his innate ability to relate to and love all people equally and without judgment. His passion for people fuelled a great sense of volunteerism to advance multiculturalism and human rights in Canada.
Among his many talents, John was widely known for his lifelong love of music. As a young boy, he grew up in a house filled with music. Recognizing that John was naturally gifted, his father, a professional musician and conductor, taught his son to play wind instruments at the age of five. Music would become John's first passion, and the saxophone his first love. Highly ambitious, he was driven to excel to world-class performance as a result of an exacting discipline marked by long hours spent practicing his craft. In his early thirties, John garnered an international reputation as a talented musician and composer, earning the title of the Golden Sax of Spain after winning a prestigious music competition. John’s passion for music brought him great joy throughout the years, and through this joy, much success as he traveled playing music for audiences worldwide, composing music for major motion pictures, and collaborating with prominent and world-renowned performers.
A modern-day renaissance man, John spent much of his life exploring the world and entertaining others through music with his orchestra. He had a great sense of adventure and wonder. John visited and lived in more than 50 countries, on five continents, and spent time living in most of the world's finest cities learning about people and culture. A polyglot (John spoke more than 10 languages) with encyclopedic knowledge, he had a brilliant mind and a deep appreciation for history and culture. John was a humanist, first and foremost, and a 33rd degree Free Mason. Indeed, John had an extraordinary gift - beyond his musical talents - to make people feel valued, heard, and respected. His humanity helped him establish trust and build rich, lifelong relationships with people, young and old, across cultures.
John’s life lesson and – what he modelled and taught his children – was to follow your passion, know your strengths, and pursue your purpose in order to live a successful and fulfilled life. He would often say - you know in your soul who you are and who you want to be; have the courage to follow your heart and it will no doubt lead you on an extraordinary journey.
John's father died of lung cancer in 1955 when John was 22 years old. John then became the "man of the house" and worked diligently for his family. His mother, Mariam (née Katerjian), was a caring woman who nurtured and loved him. John was deeply committed to his mother for her entire life. From her, he learned the importance of devoting himself to his family, demonstrating empathy, community, and the value of giving and receiving love. John had a big heart and a brilliant spirit that glowed and filled a room. John’s generous soul meant he was always prepared to give of himself and to sacrifice to meet his family's needs and the needs of those around him. John loved people and connected with strangers in a rich and meaningful manner.
John’s commitment to his mother and family eventually led him to Montreal, Canada. Mariam and her daughters first immigrated to Canada in the late '60s. John later followed them in 1969 after completing another musical tour of Europe, which ended in Spain. The intrigue of Canada was rooted in seeking opportunities grounded in peace and democracy. Having had his home country plagued by political instability and torn by war, John believed that taking the risk of making a new start in a new country was a good bet. As he later learned, it would not be without challenge.
Shortly after arriving in Canada, John felt the need to settle down and start a family. John won a contract to play music at the Mediterranean Restaurant in Saint John, New Brunswick, and as luck would have it, he met one of the owners’ daughters - a Greek beauty - Elene Flogeras - also new to Canada. John and Elene fell in love and eloped to Montreal in September 1971. Thereafter began a life of devotion to his wife, and soon to be children, Serge, Carmen, and Lara. Life in Canada would not be easy. Shortly after marriage, John was diagnosed with a serious and rare form of brain cancer. This period marked the beginning of a long series of health problems, including several other bouts of cancer that plagued John for the rest of his life.
Enterprising and adventurous, John and Elene chose to start a small business. The idea of gaining independence and working for oneself is an aspiration held by many newcomers to Canada. John, however, found himself in a role as proprietor of a restaurant business, with which he was unfamiliar. Running the business came with a myriad of demands, including extraordinary long hours and financial risks. This type of challenge nonetheless fostered a deep resilience in John and his family.
What he later appreciated was that the sacrifices he and Elene made in their working life greatly contributed to the success of his children, who received world-class educations at McGill University. Education was something that both John and Elene prioritized and valued deeply. For years, John would undertake long drives to Montreal to settle his children each academic year.
At a certain point, John was compelled to give back to his community and took to philanthropy and volunteerism. His quest was to improve the life and opportunity sought by other newcomers in Canada. John’s motto was: "We came before to open the door." He was a founding member and President of the New Brunswick Human Rights Association, the Aid for New Canadians Association, the Multicultural Associations of both New Brunswick and of Atlantic Canada, and was a member of the Canada Day Committee. He was further a strong advocate of women’s rights to equal opportunity and advancement – something he instilled in his daughters – and was a member of the Committee of Women in New Brunswick. John devoted himself generously to expand awareness of diversity and inclusion issues in the province and the Atlantic region. John was recognized for his service and was awarded the Citation for Citizenship Award from the Government of Canada, a prestigious honour that pays tribute to citizens who have made significant contributions to promoting the rights and responsibilities of Canadians.
As time went on and health problems mounted, John chose to return to his life passion of playing and teaching music. Students sought him out for his expertise across a wide-range of instruments. Indeed, this was yet another way for John to give back to others and share his talent and musical gifts. John would have a major influence building the performance of many would-be musicians.
For John, there was no magic to living a great life and no single way to get there. There were, however, principles he believed in: devote yourself to family, connect deeply with others, value diversity, be authentic and proud of who you are, live your passions, have an optimistic mindset, work hard to build deep resilience for the long road ahead, love thy neighbor, and finally, enjoy the ever-present humour in life.
These are the principles and values John Messerlian lived by. Let us remember and celebrate this life well-lived.
In his final days, John said, "I lived a remarkable life with many joyful memories of family and friends. I saw the world and strove to see the best in people. My purpose was always to remain humble and to be helpful to others. My success isn’t to be measured in terms of material wealth, but by the impact I had on helping my family and community reach their highest peak."
Due to COVID-19, we kindly ask that you join us in remembering and celebrating John’s life at the Fundy Funeral Home in Saint John on Friday, May 28, 2021. The service will be live streamed for those who cannot attend in person. Also due to the COVID pandemic, a private family visitation will take place by invite only on Thursday, March 4th and Friday, March 5th at the Fundy Funeral Home.
In lieu of flowers, and in memory of John’s legacy, please consider a donation towards The John Messerlian Scholarship: https://gofund.me/cdd33bd7
John Messerlian Scholarship