Gilbert Papazian, who passed up on a chance to get a free education and play football at Notre Dame to join his father in the produce industry, died May 3 at the age of 83.
Mr. Papazian was born in 1929 in San Francisco as a first-generation American of two Armenian-born parents. He was raised in San Francisco and was quite the football player at Lincoln High School, leading to the scholarship offer that he turned down.
In 1940, his father and uncle started Lucky Strike Farms.Both Gil and his younger brother, the late Arnold Papazian, began their produce careers in that company. Arnold Papazian eventually moved to Salinas and started the brokerage that carried his name for many years, while Gil bought Lucky Strike Farms, changed the name to Lucky Strike Brokerage Co., and operated adjacent to the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market for decades. The company remains viable today and is run by his son Gib out of Burlingame, CA, under the old Lucky Strike Farms moniker.
"Don't know why my father passed up a free ride at Notre Dame," he said, indicating it might not have been the best decision.
However it did work for Gil Papazian as he did launch a successful produce career and kept his interest in the game of football as a coach at his old high school for many years. Gib Papazian called his father "one of kind" and said he absolutely loved selling produce. His main commodities over the years were iceberg lettuce and melons. He was a protégé of Bud Antle and had the exclusive in Northern California to the Bud label for many years. He also called Basil and Roger Mills of Mills Distributing great friends and sold their Boss lettuce label for decades.
"I think my dad was the first one ever to sell carton lettuce," said Gib. "At that time everyone was selling lettuce out of the old WGA crate but my dad saw carton lettuce being packed out in the field in Salinas and decided to sell it."
He remained active in the business up until the last couple of years when health issues started to creep into his life. Gib said his father lamented the old days and often railed against the new way of doing business. He liked making deals and sending product to a close by market where a lot of volume could be moved at a special promotion price in a short amount of time. You might say corporate, centralized buying wasn't his cup of tea.
One of the first things he did after buying the company was join Western Growers and he was proud of the fact that he remained a member for the past 60 years.
Gilbert Papazian is survived by his longtime wife Margaret Papazian and their children, Gib, Alice, and Chris, as well as many other relatives, including several in the produce industry.