March 4, 2011 - 11:26 AMT 07:26 GMT

Martin Marootian, a retired pharmacist who became the chief plaintiff
in a landmark class-action suit against New York Life Insurance
Company, died Friday of natural causes at his home in San Diego. He
was 95.

Marootian was born in New York. His parents, who were from Kharpert,
escaped the Genocide, but their family was massacred. Graduating from
the Connecticut School of Pharmacy in 1939, Marootian served with
the Yale Medical Unit in the South Pacific. He met his future wife,
Seda Garapedian, at a church picnic and began a new life in Southern
California in 1955.

The Marootians were involved in the Armenian Allied Arts, the
Armenian Film Foundation, St. Gregory's Armenian Church, USC Friends
of Armenian Music and the Armenian Professional Society, which honored
Martin with the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004.

Marootian never forgot his relatives who died in Kharpert. To anyone
who visited, his study was a treasure trove of books, survivor
testimonies and newspaper clippings about the Armenian Genocide. Year
after year, like so many Armenians, he took part in commemoration
events to acknowledge the genocide.

But it wasn't until 1994 that he had the chance to play a more
prominent role in history, reports.

"I was looking through the newspaper," he recounted in 2005, "and
I read that the lawyer Vartkes Yeghiayan was looking for anyone who
had an insurance policy from New York Life Insurance Company."

Marootian remembered that his sister had an insurance policy from their
uncle, Setrak Cheytanian. "He bought the policy and paid every year,"
Marootian said. "A lot of Armenians bought policies in those days."

When Marootian's mother, Yeghsa, decided to come to America, his
uncle gave the insurance policy to her, before perishing during the
Genocide. From the early 1920s to her death in 1982, Yeghsa repeatedly
tried to collect on the policy and was refused. "I was born in 1915
in Manhattan and we couldn't have been any closer to the headquarters
of New York Life," said Marootian. "But we were not able to collect
on that policy."

New York Life sold over 8,700 insurances policies to Armenians living
in Ottoman Turkey in the period leading up to the Armenian Genocide
in 1915. Yeghiayan had long suspected there were many Armenians like
the Marootians, but to mount a lawsuit he needed proof. Marootian
had that proof - a policy.

It was the beginning of what would become a mammoth legal battle. New
York Life denied there was a list of policyholders. Then they produced
the list. New York Life then filed to have the case dismissed and
tried in Europe. The California legislature responded by passing
a special bill extending the statute of limitations and permitting
Armenian-Americans to file suits in California against insurers to
recover money from unpaid policies.

The central issue was unpaid insurance, but hovering in the background
was an even bigger issue - recognition of the Armenian Genocide in
the U.S. courts.

In 2004, the case was settled for $20 million. Money not claimed by
descendants of the insured was to go to various charities and the
Church. Judge Christine Snyder commended Marootian's tenacity. He had
shown up to every hearing, every deposition. He had demonstrated by
his very presence that he would not back down. "I remembered the New
York Life advertisement: we are the company you keep," said Marootian.

"I told that to the New York lawyers. I said I recognize the slogan,
and in my family, you are the company my family kept for many years,
and you didn't pay."

From: A. Papazian