Legacy's Guardian

January/February 2011

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Legacy's Guardian

Courtesy Setrakian Family

By the time of a friend's deathbed request, Robert Setrakian had held executive positions in wine, banking and maritime businesses. But when author William Saroyan asked him to head a foundation to preserve his literary legacy, Setrakian began a 27-year career that defined the rest of his life. He oversaw Saroyan's letters, works of art and unpublished manuscripts, which in 2002 he edited into the collection Where the Bones Go.

Setrakian, '49, of San Francisco, died of a heart attack September 2. He was 86.

Setrakian's devotion to Saroyan was rooted in their Armenian ancestry. Saroyan's father came from the same village as Setrakian's, and both emigrated to Fresno, whose Armenian community is the backdrop for Saroyan's stories.

Robert grew up in San Francisco, attended Lowell High School and majored in speech and drama at Stanford. He was a devoted athlete, serving as the crew team's coxswain, despite the lifelong effects of a teenage bout of polio. He performed in Gaieties and a musical comedy act at Rickey's Studio Club. Dressed as an Indian, he rode his palomino horse, Poncho, to lead Big Game parades.

Setrakian entered the family business, a producer of table grapes, raisins, wine and brandy. Under his leadership, the California Growers Winery grew into one of the five biggest in the state. He also served as president of the Coastwise Steamship Line, founded the National Bank of Agriculture and chaired the board of governors of the U.S. Postal Service.

Setrakian turned over Saroyan's archive in 1996 to Stanford University Libraries—extracting some of it from its longtime home at UC-Berkeley. Stanford launched a program that includes the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing.

Survivors include his wife, Patty; his children, Scott, '76, MBA '84, Rob, '79, Mary, '80 and Mark; and 12 grandchildren. He was previously married to Winifred Ainsworth Mauzy, '51.

Wendy Jalonen Fawthrop, '78

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