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Friday, 14 August 2020

The Late Mrs. Sonia John - Obituary

Montage by Liz Chater

This is the full obituary For Mrs. Sonia John courtesy of the Indo-ArmenianFriendship NGO Facebook page.

It is with the deepest regret and with a heavy heart that we announce the sad passing of Mrs. Sonia John, on the 10th August 2020 in Kolkata. She was 94 years old.

Born in Shiraz, Iran on July 2 1926, Sonia arrived in India as a young girl with her grandmother, aged only 4 years old. She subsequently attended La Martiniere for Girls School in Kolkata where she excelled at both studies and extracurricular activities. In appreciation of her commitment to getting an education and her overall behaviour at the school, young Sonia was awarded the "Good Conduct" medal by the school authorities. Sonia later went on to become an accomplished hockey player and captained the Bengal Women’s Hockey Team for many years. She also captained and managed the Bengal Womens' Basketball team, along with many clubs during her career. As a keen sportswoman, Sonia was a fierce competition on the Golf Course as well, winning several titles and trophies. In the 1950s, years after her marriage to Arathoon Mackertich John and after having worked as an educator for a few years, Sonia set up the Moir Hall School in Calcutta. Moir Hall School was her focus and passion right up until her passing, believing education of children in Kolkata to be of paramount importance. The school continues to be one of the most affordable places to get an education in the city, with many pupils from low-income households having studied under her guidance free of charge.

As a multi-talented and accomplished person, Sonia also succeeded in her entrepreneurial skills, successfully running a hotel with her husband for many years. Her "Carlton Hotel" was one of the many Armenian-owned hotels in Kolkata. As a patriotic Armenian and a devout Christian, Mrs. John couldn't be indifferent to matters concerning the Armenian Community of India. She helped activate the Armenian Sports Club and was elected a member of the Committee of the Armenian Holy Church of Nazareth. In the late 1990s, when the Armenian College and Philanthropic Academy, built in the year 1821 was at a brink of certain closure, Sonia John, with the help of certain community members came to its rescue and through hard-fought litigation, secured an order from the Calcutta High Court for the school to be placed under the Management of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. This act of patriotism and devotion forced her to be even more involved in the day-to-day running of the Armenian College & Philanthropic Academy (ACPA) as well as the Armenian Holy Church of Nazareth Kolkata for many years, taking the position of Honorary Chairperson of the Church Committee, a position she held until 2005. She was also appointed as Manager of Armenian College by His Holiness Karekin I, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, a position she held on an Honorary basis as well.

As Chairperson of the Armenian Church Committee and in her capacity as the Manager of ACPA, Sonia oversaw the successful renovation of many of the properties of the Armenian Community, including the Churches, the old-age home as well as the Armenian College and Davidian Girls Schools, among others. It is not known to many, that the current building of the Armenian Embassy in India was completely designed by her. It was during her tenure as Chairperson that the Armenian Church donated the plot to the Armenian Government and financed the building of the Embassy in Delhi. For her contribution and service, during his official visit to India in 2003, Armenian President Robert Kocharyan awarded her with an Honorary Passport of the Republic of Armenia, acknowledging her tireless devotion to the Armenian cause. She was also awarded the St. Nerses Shnorhali Medal by His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of all Armenians for her extraordinary services rendered to the Armenian Apostolic Church. Years earlier, in 1999, she had been the only delegate from Asia and Oceania at the National Church Assembly of the Armenian Apostolic Church which was bestowed with the mandate to elect the Catholicos.

Mrs John, as one of her most important contributions to social welfare, oversaw the completion of the Armenian Church Trauma Center as well as Sir Catchick Paul Chater ward at the Rabindranath Tagore Hospital, Kolkata, which the Committee of the Armenian Holy Church of Nazareth financed during her tenure. It is here that she passed away having suffered a heart attack.

Even in her 80’s Sonia never slowed down, and one of many of her finest events was the Armenian Church pilgrimage to Hong Kong in 2005 to honour and remember the late Sir Catchick Paul Chater. In 2017, at the remarkable age of 91, Sonia, in conjunction with the Indo-Armenian Friendship NGO, collaborated with La Martiniere for Boys' School in Kolkata to finance the erection of a bust of the late Sir Catchick Paul Chater in the ground of the Boys' School, where Sir Paul had been educated. As always, she was involved in all aspects of the organisation of this magnificent event and was deeply gratified that La Martiniere chose to honour Sir Paul Chater in this way. Not only was Sonia John a former pupil of the institution but had also served on its Board of Governors for many years.
Sonia continued to run her school, attending and teaching there daily, right up until the COVID pandemic crisis hit in March. Life at the Armenian Community in Kolkata would have been very different had it not been for her devotion, patriotism and many years of dedicated service. Her contribution to community life in recent decades remains unmatched.

Sonia is survived by her children, Angela and Paul and grandchildren, Julian, Maria and Noah.

Indo-Armenian Friendship NGO has lost one of its strongest supporters. Her guidance and words of wisdom will be missed greatly. The Armenian Community of India, the Armenian Diaspora and the entire Armenian nation has lost an icon.

Rest In Peace, Mrs John and thank you for everything.

Further reading about Mrs. John's family, in particular her grandfather, Jordan Martin, and how he was a spy for the British in Persia during WW1, can be found here.

In 2017 Mrs John was the generous benefactor of the Sir Catchick Paul Chater bust unveiled in the grounds of La Martiniere School, Kolkata. View a short video clip of Sonia looking through my private album on Sir Paul Chater and her natural enthusiasm and reactions to it.

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