Los Alamos loses a legend

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‘Krik’ Krikorian leaves behind a legacy of helping to build a once Secret City into what it is today.

By Tris DeRoma

 He was born with so little, but in the end, had given the community he chose to settle in so much. Los Alamos lost one of its most influential residents Wednesday.

Nerses “Krik” Krikorian was born on a Turkish roadside in 1921. He was a refugee of the Armenian genocide. He was an immigrant, a chemist and a family man. He passed away Wednesday at 97.

Krikorian, had such an influence on what Los Alamos is today that in a way, he is still here. He helped found the Los Alamos United Church of Los Alamos, the J. Oppenheimer Memorial Committee and he also helped create the original county charter. 

He did all these things while working as a chemist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and raising a family. These are just some of the reminders of Krikorian’s dedication to making what started out as a place to put a secret laboratory into a real, working community. 

According to his daughter, Deb Krikorian, her father’s deep dedication to community was just a natural outcome of his constant quest for knowledge and his pragmatic outlook on life. 

Nowhere was Krikorian’s dedication to community more evident than in a memo sent out to employees of Los Alamos National Laboratory from LANL Director Terry Wallace Thursday. Krikorian, who moved to Los Alamos in 1946, hired Wallace’s father in 1956.

“He was a giant in the world of national security science and the Los Alamos community,” Wallace said in the memo.

The memo then went on to document Krikorian’s expansive career in science and security, and the impact his work had on LANL and the community he called home for more than 70 years. 

At LANL, He began by working with polonium to prepare polonium-beryllium initiators and then moved to Project Rover in the mid-1950s to develop a nuclear-thermal rocket for space applications, according to the lab. He then went on to work as an intelligence analyst as a security officer. Krikorian earned the laboratory’s highest honor, the Los Alamos Medal, and the CIA’s Intelligence Community Medallion. 

“He contributed enormously to the mission of the Laboratory, and I can say with confidence it’s a better place because of him,” Wallace said. “As we celebrate our 75 years as a Laboratory, few people have been more impactful on our history than Krik. He leaves an enduring legacy that will continue far into the future.”

He started his career as a uranium chemist working for the Manhattan Project at Union Carbide in New York. In the 1970s he was asked to be an intelligence analyst at LANL. He retired in 1991. 

“Things have worked out far beyond what I ever imagined. I think of my parents and wonder, ‘How did they ever do it?’ To be born on a roadside in Turkey to this,” Krikorian said in 2017 article in the Los Alamos Monitor about his life. “My parents instilled in me the importance of doing the right thing and giving back to your fellow man. I hope I’ve done that.” 

When asked about where Krikorian’s thirst for knowledge came from, Deb Krikorian, simply said, “Curiosity.” 

He continued that dedication to knowledge right up until the end of his life, she said.

“He was curious about everything. He loved to just sit down and read. Even when he couldn’t read he was listening to books on tape and things like that,” Deb Krikorian said.

His daughter talked about one discussion Krikorian had with another founder of the United Church of Los Alamos on the merits of the church serving grape juice instead of wine at communion. At the end of the discussion, the two founders decided it didn’t matter. 

“It didn’t really matter because of the centrality of Christ. If you believed in Christ you were welcomed in the church,” Deb Krikorian said.  

He was raised in the Armenian Apostolic Church and became engaged to Katherine “Pat” Patterson in Los Alamos. Patterson was raised Southern Baptist.

At that time he was getting ready to be engaged to a women raised as a Southern Baptist,” Deb Krikorian said. “I think he saw a need to be able to look at Christianity in a more ecumenical manner.”

United Church of Los Alamos Senior Pastor David Elton described Krikorian as an “extremely committed member and a person of faith.” 

“It was a great privilege for me to get to know Krik, to hear about his distinguished career and to have been his pastor for the years I’ve been here,” Elton said. “He will be dearly missed by friends here at this church and citizens of Los Alamos both near and far.”

Elton said Krikorian was instrumental in founding the church when members from many denominations gathered together to form the church before 1947. 

He also loved local theater and often acted in local productions. He also loved to fish. And in true “Krik” fashion, he couldn’t help but teach others his passions.

“He loved to fish,” Deb Krikorian said. “When we lived in Barranca Mesa he taught every kid on the block how to fish.” 

Los Alamos County Council Chairman David Izraelevitz knew Krikorian through is work with the J. Oppenheimer Memorial Committee and the Charter Review Committee. 

Izraelevitz said Krikorian gave him some insight into what the thought process was concerning the original charter that was helpful when the Charter Review Committee was considering making some changes. 

“We had many good conversations about the original charter, the process that they went through,” Izraelevitz said. 

Deb Krikorian said residents can best honor his life and legacy by making a contribution to J. Oppenheimer Memorial Committee or the United Church of Los Alamos. That’s what he would have wanted. “That would help and would also help the community,” Deb Krikorian said. 

A memorial service is being planned. A burial will be held Wednesday at 11:15 a.m. at the Santa Fe National Cemetery.

For more about Krik Krikorian, read the Los Alamos National Laboratory's story here.