Dr. Simon J. Simonian Relates Ideas, Achievements at Palisades Library

By Sue Pascoe

Dr. Simon J. Simonian, a transplant to Pacific Palisades from the East Coast, recently addressed an audience of about 30 in the Palisades Library community room about ways to achieve peace in the world.

He urged his listeners to learn to accept differences as a gift, because it enriches us as a whole.

“We have wars because of competition,” said Simonian, who was raised as a Quaker. “We need to learn to eradicate competition, because that is taking us in the wrong direction.”

He pointed out that even though the fingers on our hand are each different, they all work together and that we as humans have to do the same. “We have to learn how to collaborate.”

Similarly, Simonian pointed out that although an orchestra is made up of many different instruments, they all work together.

Palisades adult librarian Mary Tyler introduced speaker Dr. Simon J. Simonian.
Palisades adult librarian Mary Tyler introduced speaker Dr. Simon J. Simonian.

He said that if nations, generally, could emulate Norway, which has worked hard to even the economic status of its people (versus the dominance of the “one percent elite” in the United States), it would help move all countries to a model world, with “heaven and earth all united in one.”

He explained that the lifestyle in Norway, where residents work only 36 hours a week, have more vacation time, have free healthcare, transportation and education, would be optimal.

Then Simonian spoke about his life. His father and mother were both orphaned in Armenia during World War I, married and escaped to Beruit from Syria, where Simonian had been born. He attended a Quaker school in Lebanon.

After high school, he went to work at the Lister Institute of Preventative Medicine in England with Leslie Collier and Douglas McLean, who developed a method of producing a freeze-dried, heat-stable smallpox vaccine in powdered form.

Simonian then became a surgeon after studying at Harvard and Oxford, specializing in organ transplants. He returned to Lebanon briefly, where he met his wife of 52 years, Arpi. In 1966, he was appointed director of immunology at Harvard and the couple moved to Boston.

In 2007, Simonian, who was the emeritus president of the Vein Institute and emeritus clinical professor of surgery at Georgetown University Medical Center, and his wife Arpi, author of “Slimmer and Trimmer: Daily Tips for Permanent Weight Loss,” endowed a prize in honor of Stanley Gershoff, who had been a mentor at the Harvard School of Public Health.

At a presentation, Gershoff said the prize is given in “recognition that nutrition, in both its laboratory and social science aspects, is important.” He expressed “great affection” for the Simonians.

Simonian, who had a distinguished career as a kidney transplant specialist and professor of surgery at teaching hospitals in Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit and Washington, D.C., said the prize was also established to celebrate the mentor-student bond.

In 2009, Dr. Joseph Murray (a 1990 Nobel Prize winner for his pioneering work in organ transplants) and Simonian established an endowment to fund a yearly prize to recognize outstanding academic achievement by a trainee in the Department of Surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (Harvard Medical School’s teaching hospital), who exemplifies creativity and dedication to the discipline of surgery as previously exhibited by Drs. Murray (mentor) and Simonian (mentee).

Simonian, who is co-editing his fifth book, “Building Cultures of Peace,” regularly represents the Society of Friends (Quakers) at public events, such as the recent ordination of the Rt. Rev. John Harvey Taylor, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles on July 8.

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