Haverhill native Paula Aznavoorian-Barry passed away this week after a year and half of fighting for her health, a career of helping people recover from difficult circumstances, and 60 years of collecting family.
Paula grew up exploring her beloved grandmother’s garden on Swasey Street. She was a graduate of Tilton School, Consentino, and Haverhill High School (where she was a cheerleader in the class of 1978). Throughout her childhood and teen years, Paula loved Salisbury beach and was an active member of the region’s Armenian community.
She was an only child with a wide extended family and a penchant for pulling people in closer: Her cousins from around the country consider her a sister, as does her uncle, Ara Aznavoorian, and his wife, Susan. In turn, Ara’s son (also named Ara) and his daughter (Kristine) describe her as both an older sister and second mother.
“She was so fun and so cool,” said her cousin Richie Aznavoorian, who both helped instill Paula’s love of rock and roll and was carried along by it. Paula recalled The Beatles’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show as a seminal moment in her life that was followed by a lifetime of rock clubs and arena shows. (In addition to the Beatles, she loved the Rolling Stones and Aerosmith, but the time she snuck a contraband camera into a Ringo Starr concert has become the stuff of family legend).
Rock and roll colored Paula’s life and changed the course of it: She met her husband of nearly 40 years, Rick Barry, watching a mutual friend’s band play at Oriental Garden in Haverhill. After the show, he changed her flat tire and took her on their first date to-of course-Salisbury Beach. A month after she graduated from BU (with a double major in nursing and rehabilitation), they were married and moved to Connecticut. Paula worked at a rehab facility in an unsavory part of town. Fortunately, Rick managed HR for security there, and made sure that the officers on duty kept Paula safe.
After their son (also named Rick!) was born, they moved back to Haverhill and spent every Friday night playing cards with family and every Sunday enjoying a boisterous Armenian lunch prepared by Paula’s grandmother.
Their son points to their first trips to Sanibel Island and Las Vegas as very happy turning points in their lives. While he was a child and teen, most of their travel was for family vacations and his karate tournaments, but once he left for college, their occasional cruises and trips to beaches and Vegas became more and more frequent.
As their son grew, so did Paula’s collected family: She affectionately described their house as a bus depot, and some of her fondest memories were of the house being carpeted with dozens of sleeping teenagers, who would congregate for extended parties and reunions every New Year’s weekend. Paula and Rick only had one child, but it has been decades since she lost count of how many kids called her “mom.”
After her time as a nurse, Paula earned a Master’s degree from Boston University and worked in insurance, developing or managing rehabilitation programs, including 21 years working for Travelers. In recent years, she was the Vocational and Accommodation Services Manager at Liberty Financial (but her co-workers just referred to her as their “Queen Bee”).
In the early 2000s, Paula became the matriarch of her family. Seeing her tend to her ailing parents gave her husband a new appreciation for her deep wells of caring and patience. She was utterly heartbroken when her parents died.
Yet her collected family continued to grow: Longtime friends drew even closer to her. She gained a daughter-in-law. And, in the last few months of her life, she gained a granddaughter, Arden River Barry. Paula had been fighting for her life for a year and a half (she began experiencing respiratory and cardiovascular symptoms a month before Covid-19 was declared a pandemic), but described getting to meet baby Arden on the last day of her life as, “The best medicine.”
She told her son on the day of her passing that she was at peace, her nurses at Brigham and Women’s Hospital might say she was at a party. Paula passed away in her sleep, but just before bed, she was toasting margaritas with her husband, cousin and son.
Her family knows that every room is going to feel empty for a long time.
Visitation will be held on Tuesday, August 10, in the Driscoll Funeral Home, 309 S. Main Street, Haverhill from 4:30 to 7:30 PM. Funeral services will take place on Wednesday, in the Armenian Apostolic Church at Hye Pointe, 1280 Boston Road, Haverhill at 11:00 AM. Please meet directly at the church. Generous to the end, Paula requested that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to either the Armenian Apostolic Church at Hye Point, or to the Center for Christian Civics at www.christiancivics.org. For guestbook, visit www.driscollcares.com