On June 3, 2013, Babak Armajani left us. We have lost a great partner, friend, teacher, connector and believer.
Known almost universally as “Armi,” Babak mastered the art of “friending” decades before Facebook. Any and every occasion was an opportunity for him to draw others into one of his many overlapping circles of friends. Once in, he connected one to another through an endless array of organized activities – annual canoe trips, ski weekends in a Winnebago, outings to Kicks or Twins games, holiday parties, golf trips, a multi-decade long men’s group, and many, many more. At the center of each event was Armi – organizing games, laughing, embracing, caring. He believed friendship was a commitment, one that he honored always.
Born to Yaya and Ruth in 1946, he was imbued with a Persian soul and a missionary’s zeal to change lives. The loves of his life remain his wife, Sarah, and the three young people he guided to adulthood – Leah, Brook and Arjan.
Raised in St. Paul, he graduated from Central High School, Grinnell College and Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He taught at Indiana University for two years before returning to the Twin Cities in 1975 to work for Mayor Al Hofstede. He then joined the staff of the Governor’s Crime Commission, and following that spent several years doing management consulting with Ray Stave and Associates.
In 1982 he joined the administration of Gov. Rudy Perpich where he served for eight years, first as deputy commissioner of administration and then deputy dommissioner of revenue. In 1990 he founded the Public Strategies Group, which became his professional home for the rest of his life.
Babak had faith in government. He believed passionately in the power of government to change lives and the power of people to change government. He spread his faith by patiently teaching us that governments perform as they do by design and that if we want a different result from government we have to change its design.
But much of the design is unseen. So Babak taught us to see the design and where to grab hold of the levers that would make change possible. He also taught that change unleashes energy — especially in opposition. He taught us to embrace that opposing energy and in so doing help harness it to make change possible.
In Babak’s mind nothing was impossible. He taught us to believe that, too. He created the first Transformation Partnership in the country with the governor of Iowa, orchestrated the transformation of the U.S. Office of Student Financial Assistance so that it out-performed its corporate counterparts, and turned back-office administration into “A New Vision For Managing Government” in his book “Breaking Through Bureaucracy.”
Babak lived his life with passion. His life was full to overflowing. We will miss that laugh, his warm embrace, the pure joy of being with him, the way he lifted us up. We will keep with us the lessons he taught, the example he set, and his belief in us.
A group of friends and colleagues of Babak Armajani got together to jointly pen this tribute.
WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?
If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at firstname.lastname@example.org.)