Where Are They Now: Vartan Gregorian

The former Brown president and head of the banking commission now serves as president of the Carnegie Corporation.

When we profiled Vartan gregorian in 1989, he’d just been named president of Brown University. One of his strongest memories of living here, however, was chairing the commission examining the collapse of the state’s credit unions. We caught up with him in New York where he’s been president of the Carnegie Corporation, a philanthropic organization, since 1997.

What were your thoughts when Governor Bruce Sundlun asked you to head up the RISDIC commission? I asked him, “Why me?” I don’t know much about banking. I got calls from my friends saying “Don’t do it, are you crazy?” I accepted because it was the least I could do. I thought I’d be trusted by Rhode Islanders because I didn’t have investments in banking; I became a student. It was a fascinating experience, and an introduction into the messy world of politics. My report was named “Carved in Sand.”

You were friends with Buddy Cianci during his second term as mayor of Providence. What was that about? Buddy challenged me; he once said, “Follow me for a day.” He had a great sense of humor and was a great dinner companion; he made my wife, Clare, laugh when he sat next to us. We respected each other’s domain. He had bravura and did a lot for Providence, but we had nothing in common except a love of the city.

When you think of Rhode Island, what do you think of? It’s one of the most beautiful states, it’s not overdeveloped, people are nice, some parochial, but they know their feelings either way.

Interview has been condensed and edited.