ADRIAN - Richard Ara Goolian, 80, former chairman of the music department at Adrian College and a concert pianist, died Friday from complications from an ulcer in Bixby Medical Center.
Mr. Goolian was born to Armenian immigrant parents in 1920. He learned many of the Armenian cultural traditions from them, said his daughter Betsy Goolian.
“Armenians love to laugh because they've seen so much of the hard times. My dad loved to make people laugh,” she said.
But family and friends said he was intense and demanding, especially about products and services.
“He had a strong personality and strong opinions,” said Ruth Gilkey, a longtime friend and neighbor. “If he bought something that didn't work to his satisfaction, he didn't hesitate to write a letter to the president of the company.
“He wasn't mean at all. In fact, he was very charming, but he expected people to live up to their promises and what they stood behind.”
Mr. Goolian earned his undergraduate and master's degrees in music from the University of Michigan and was a strong follower of the school.
“When I was looking at colleges, my dad told me I could go anywhere I wanted to as long as it was Michigan,” Betsy Goolian said. “That made my college choice really simple.”
She said the family would travel to Ann Arbor on a regular basis for concerts and other events.
“He had an absolute heart of gold,” said Cougas Jones, Betsy Goolian's husband. “He was amazed by anything technical, but the bottom line was that he was a wonderful man.”
In 1943 he married the former Betty Rhodes. He served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps in France and Germany during World War II.
In 1947 he joined the staff of Chapman College in Los Angeles, specializing in piano.
From 1964 to 1985 Mr. Goolian taught at Adrian College, the final four years as chairman of the department. He taught music appreciation, and every year he gave a piano concert at the school.
“When the opportunity to teach came along, he took it and I think he was happy about it,” Mr. Jones said. “Some people enjoy teaching with their entire heart and soul and some people hate it. I think he was somewhere in the middle.”
The love of music, mainly classical, influenced Mr. Goolian's life. He learned how to play the piano at an early age and played the instrument in his church at the age of 5.
“He loved Oscar Peterson and Gershwin,” Mr. Jones said. “The main thing was he loved music. He would take two hours out of the day to just listen to music.”
“He wouldn't just listen to it as something in the background,” Betsy Goolian said. “He listened to it intently. He really focused on it.”
Mr. Goolian was an avid reader. His best friend and next door neighbor for 41 years, Dr. William Gilkey - the husband of Mrs. Gilkey - said Mr. Goolian was an original member of a book club that was formed in 1982.
“He was always so helpful to us,” Mr. Gilkey said. “He was always there for us, and we hit it off so well because he was such a great person.”
They played golf together until a couple of years ago, when Mr. Goolian's chronic back problems forced him to give up the game.
Family and friends remember Mr. Goolian as an engrossing story teller with the ability to hold audiences with his humorous stories about his life, family, and friends.
“He had a great sense of humor,” Mrs. Gilkey said. “He was very colorful and wonderful at telling all these stories that we had forgotten about.”
He is survived by his wife, Betty, and daughters, Kathleen and Betsy Goolian.
Visitation will be at 10 a.m. tomorrow at the Braun Everiss-Wagley Funeral Home, 1501 West Maumee in Adrian, followed by a memorial service at 11 a.m.
The family requests tributes to Adrian College.