Jacques H. Nalbantian, 101, a retired engineer and resident of Shelter Island since 1978, beloved father of Edward and Charles Nalbantian and husband of the late Rose Nalbantian, passed away peacefully at his home in Ridgewood, New Jersey on September 19, 2018.
Jacques, known as Jack, was born on July 17, 1917, the second son in a prosperous Armenian merchant family living in Smyrna in the then-Ottoman Empire. In 1922, when Smyrna was occupied and burned by Turkish nationalists, targeting the Greek and Armenian Christian population of the city, young Jack and his family escaped as refugees thanks to the intervention of French naval forces.
The family settled in Tunis, in the then-French colony of Tunisia, where Jack attended French schools and eventually earned an undergraduate degree in engineering at the French poly technical college.
Tragedy struck the family again in 1931 when Jack’s father died suddenly of a heart attack. This prompted a decision to emigrate to the United States and join his mother’s family, who years earlier had settled on the east coast. After immigration visas were finally obtained in 1941, Jack, together with his mother and two brothers, travelled to Lisbon in December of that year to fly from there to the United States on the Pan Am Clipper service.
But the attack on Pearl Harbor forced cancellation of their flight days before their departure and the family was stranded in Lisbon.
Eventually, in February 1942, the family found passage on a ship chartered by Quakers for fleeing Jewish refugees bound for South America, but calling in Newport News, Virginia.
After a harrowing crossing during which German U-boats stopped the ship twice, the family disembarked in Virginia and settled in Syracuse, New York, near the home of their extended family.
For the next 10 years in Syracuse, Jack’s life was finally on firm ground. He began working as an engineer at Remington Rand, assisting with the redesign of the Colt .45 pistol for use by U.S. Army combat troops in World War II.
In April 1945, he joined the U.S. Army and was honorably discharged the following year having earned the Good Conduct Medal. He then resumed his engineering career with the General Electric Company while also undertaking graduate studies in engineering at Syracuse University, earning a Master’s Degree in 1953.
But, most importantly while in Syracuse, Jack met Rose, his beloved wife-to-be, who was then a student at Wayne State University. They married in 1953 at the Syracuse University Chapel.
After moving to New York City the following year and then to Ridgewood, New Jersey in 1965, Jack’s professional life as an engineer continued, first with the Dumont Corporation and then, for more than 25 years, with Fairchild Camera Space & Defense Systems.
At Fairchild, he was involved in the design and implementation of optic imaging technology for the Gemini and Apollo space missions including the imaging systems that photographed the Moon during the Apollo lunar landings. Later, he was the senior engineer for the optical guidance system used in the first generation of Tomahawk cruise missiles. Jack retired as a full-time engineer in 1992, but continued working on special projects for Fairchild into his late 70s.
Even with these professional accomplishments, the priority in Jack’s life was unquestionably his family, in the broadest meaning of the word. He was a devoted and loving husband for 57 years to Rose, a special education teacher in the New York City public school system, who pre-deceased him in 2010.
They had two sons raised in Ridgewood — Edward, a corporate lawyer now based in London and Paris with his wife Valerie, and Charles, a management consultant and longstanding resident of Shelter Island with his wife Dana. Jack also took enormous pride in his three grandchildren — Theodore, Nicholas and Chloe.
With all his travels over the course of his life, Jacks’s favorite place, his family said, was without doubt Shelter Island. He enjoyed, more than anything, sharing time with his family and his grandchildren at the family home in Silver Beach. He was passionate about nature, revelling in his garden, the turtles, the ospreys and the hummingbirds that were frequent visitors, and the abundance from Peconic Bay. Until the very end, he would never pass up an opportunity to go boating on the bay, and he truly loved the sunsets in Silver Beach, summoning neighbors, family and friends to watch every evening.
Jack displayed passion for most everything he did, his family said, and he greeted everyone with his bright and welcoming smile.
This legacy together with his wisdom — uniquely combining humanity, intellect and experience from a life spanning a century — provided constant guidance and joy for all of his family, his neighbors, and to all those who shared in his life.