Barbara Bejoian, at 49; playwright, Red Sox fan*
The Boston Globe
By Gloria Negri
The last play Barbara Bejoian wrote was about an elderly man who is
taken from his nursing home to attend what he knows will be his last Red
Like him, Ms. Bejoian, an accomplished playwright whose works have been
performed in the United States, Britain, and Armenia, was a lifelong Red
Like him, she was also looking forward to what she sensed might be her
last Red Sox game, this Sunday, against the Yankees.
Ms. Bejoian, 49, formerly of Watertown, died Saturday at her home in
Barrington, R.I., after a long battle with metastatic rectal cancer.
A fleece Red Sox blanket given to her by a godchild kept her warm during
her final illness, her husband, Newell Thomas, said yesterday. It will
be buried with her.
Ms. Bejoian, winner of 10 National Endowment for the Arts awards, was a
professor of playwriting, English, and creative writing. Her students
ranged from children whose second language was English to undergraduates
and graduate students at Brown University, New York University, Rhode
Island School of Design, and Rhode Island College. One of her plays will
appear in a future anthology of Armenian writers, to be published by
Columbia University Press.
No matter what Ms. Bejoian undertook, friends said, she did it with a
zest for life, and always succeeded. “Barb was gorgeous inside and out,”
said Majorie Hatten of Medfield, a friend since both were 12. “She would
decide she was going to achieve something and, then, reach to the top
ring before figuring out how she was going to get there.” (One time Ms.
Bejoian was determined to meet playwright Neil Simon, and she did.)
She would always go the extra mile for a friend, Hatten said. “Barb
always brought out the best in people,” she said. “If she told you that
you were beautiful and talented, you believed it because she did.”
Ms. Bejoian was born and raised in Watertown. Her brother, Robert, still
of Watertown, said their mother made her take ballet lessons as a child,
“because with three brothers, mother didn’t want her to become a
tomboy.” Ballet is what got her started in a career in the arts, he said.
A cheerleader for the Watertown High School football team, Ms. Bejoian
was the school’s homecoming queen in 1972 and graduated a year later.
She was chosen as one of two women in the state to attend the Girl’s
Nation Assembly in Washington, D.C.
She was also an award-winning speaker at Voice of Democracy contests —
writing her speeches and then reciting them from memory. In the early
1970s, she played lead roles in Boston Children’s Theatre productions.
She graduated from Wheaton College in 1977 with a degree in English. She
held a variety of jobs in publishing and in television as an advertising
executive. During one period, she worked for the BBC in London while
researching a play about Virginia Woolf. Her works were later performed
at the New End Theatre.
Her “true love was always playwriting,” her brother said, and she
enrolled in courses at Radcliffe College. When she decided to get a
master’s degree in fine arts, Ms. Bejoian moved from Boston to
Providence and received her degree from Brown University in 1984.
She won many awards for her plays, including several artist-in-residence
posts, the Brown University Creative Writing Fellowship, a Rockefeller
grant, and the Critics Choice Award at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
She won a Fulbright Scholarship in 1995 to teach creative writing at the
American University in Yerevan, Armenia, where she was accompanied by
her husband and their two sons. Her plays were performed at Yerevan
State University and at the American Embassy in Armenia.
While there, the US Embassy asked Ms. Bejoian, who was fluent in
Armenian, to travel to the remote towns of Gumri and Vanadzor, which had
been devastated by an earthquake in the mid-1980s, to teach children
about democracy and other classroom subjects.
Before her illness was diagnosed in 2002, Ms. Bejoian traveled to New
York several days a week from Providence to teach at New York
University; she was an adjunct professor there at the time of her death.
The family moved to Barrington last year.
She wrote her Red Sox play three years before her diagnosis, ending it
with the old man’s words to the young man who had brought him to the
game. “Don’t worry, Tom,” the older man said. “Nobody can live forever.
We just have to make the most of every moment on earth.”