111-year-old Armenian woman had to prove to U.S. government that she was still alive

Photo: Scott Strazzante /The Chronicle


A 111-year-old Armenian woman had to prove to U.S. government that she was still alive, The Chronicle reports.

San-Francisco resident Lucy Mirigian is 111 and very much alive, no matter what the U.S. government says. In November, the government agency that administers her federal pension decided that Mirigian was dead because she had not returned a form letter saying she wasn’t.

Mirigian said the letter never arrived. The result: the government stopped sending Mirigian her monthly pension of $377.26. Her health insurance was about to be cut off, too.

It was a nightmare, according to Mirigian and her daughter, Sonia, and son-in-law, Jack Koujakian, who share the house near Balboa Park that Mirigian bought in 1950. Being alive is one thing. Persuading the U.S. government that you are alive when it disagrees is something else.

The Koujakians wrote letters. They made calls. They left messages. Nothing worked. Once the government thinks you’re dead, it’s not easy to change its mind.

In desperation, the family walked into the San Mateo office of Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier. The office staff took one look at Mirigian and concluded that she was still very much in a condition to keep collecting the pension she was entitled to as a retired clerk at the U.S. Mint on Market Street.

Speier’s staff made some calls. Calls from a congresswoman’s aide, unlike calls from a congresswoman’s constituent, tend to get things straightened out lickety split. The pension was restored this week and the past-due benefits were paid. That’s a good thing, Mirigian said, because her family has booked a vacation in Calistoga next month and the hotel isn’t free.

As a 4-year-old, Mirigian left her home in Armenia on the back of a donkey in 1910. She crossed the Atlantic on a boat, made her way to Fresno and attended Fresno State University. In San Francisco, she raised a family, taught Sunday school, served as a PTA president and had a second career making elegant, elaborate sculptures from beads and wire. Her husband of 40 years, Ashod, died in 1998.

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