Businesswoman never too busy to support numerous charities

Palm Beach Post (Florida)
May 5, 2004 Wednesday FINAL EDITION


By STEPHANIE SLATER Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Clutching a stack of papers and a glass of mushed cereal, Marta
Batmasian rushes through the front door of her real estate investment
and management firm.

“I’m going to be late to my own funeral,” she announces, settling
behind a desk cluttered with more paperwork and a few half-eaten
power bars. “I never have time. I always look shabby.”

She doesn’t. Perfectly put together in a royal blue two-piece suit,
it’s hard to believe she puts on her make-up and brushes her hair
when she is stopped at traffic lights. The new chairwoman of the Palm
Beach County Cultural Council and a board member of 17 nonprofits,
she gets dressed for black-tie fund-raisers in the car.

Batmasian is the new breed of Boca Raton philanthropy: a wealthy,
successful businesswoman who would rather get her hands dirty than
see her name emblazoned on a building. She is a wife and mother, who
misses her Saturday morning yoga class to blow up balloons for
charity; a down-to-earth gal who pays 90 cents to hop on the bus when
visiting Boston on business.

“The day I become a true snob, God, just take me,” she said. “I’m
very simple.”

Her life is not. Lack of time for herself is the price she pays for
success. With her husband of 29 years, James, she owns more than 100
commercial and residential properties from Boston to Boca Raton –
including Royal Palm Place, a 15-acre shopping center off Federal
Highway in the heart of downtown West Palm Beach. This month, the
plaza celebrates the opening of new luxury rental apartments, offices
and retail space.

But it’s her commitment to culture, children and education that takes
precedence. Her volunteer ventures include involvement in the Centre
for the Arts at Mizner Park, Kids in New Directions and Providing
Resources and Outreach Programs for Education and Leadership, a
program her husband developed to help the disadvantaged get
vocational training or GEDs, as well as find jobs with local
businesses. She also is credited with starting the city’s only
science museum, the Children’s Science Explorium, an interactive
museum in Sugar Sand Park.

It’s her latest venture, however, that’s closest to her heart.
Batmasian has partnered with the League for Educational Awareness of
the Holocaust to bring a museum of humanities to Mizner Park. The
center for learning, education and co-existence would replace the
defunct International Museum of Cartoon Art.

Her push for peace comes from her late grandmother Rose, who survived
the Turkish slaughtering of more than 1.5 million Armenians during
World War I.

“I owe this to her so that it won’t be repeated again,” she said, her
eyes welled with tears. “She was my angel.”

A native of Istanbul, Turkey, and valedictorian of her high school,
Batmasian moved to the United States at 21, and graduated from
Emerson College in Boston with a degree in English and comparative
literature. Proficient in eight languages, she earned a joint masters
and Ph.D. in Middle Eastern history, politics and languages from
Brandeis University.

She met her husband, then a Harvard law and business student, at a
student debate. The couple married in August 1974, and she started a
real estate management firm while teaching Armenian language at the
University of Massachusetts. The family moved to Boca Raton in 1983,
after her unsuccessful run for the Massachusetts State Senate.

Batmasian takes pride in having worked hard to possess the finer
things. She’s teaching her sons, Jimmy, 28, and Armen, 26, to do the
same. Both work for the family business.

“Work ethics are the only thing we’ve given them,” she said. “We
intend to leave everything to charity.”

Have an interesting neighbor you want the community to know about?
Call Stephanie Slater at 279-3468.

[email protected]

MEET YOUR NEIGHBOR: Marta Batmasian, 54Boca Raton

GRAPHIC: PHOTO (C); VADA MOSSAVAT/Staff Photographer Marta Batmasian
operates a real estate firm and still manages to give time to
philanthropy. Batmasian, who is the chairwoman of the Palm Beach
County Cultural Council, is working to convert a defunct museum into
a humanities museum.