For 78 years, Sarkis Tatigian served his country, passing away this week as the longest serving civil servant at the Department of Defense.
Since leaving the Navy after World War II, his passion was serving small businesses, leading to many jobs being created and even the Sarkis Tatigian Small Business Award, which was named for him and he was its first winner.
At the age of 19 Tatigian started his civilian career with the US Navy during World War Two in July 1942. He was a junior radio inspector at the Philadelphia Navy Yard and the Navy Office of Inspector of Naval Aircraft in Linden, New Jersey.
Tatigian left his position as an inspector and entered the Navy as an active-duty Sailor in 1943. In 1944 he started working as an aviation electronics technician’s mate developing the Navy’s first guided anti-ship munition, the ASM-N-2 “BAT” glide bomb. Later it became an operational weapon that the fleet used at the end of WWII.
In 1946, he left active duty to return to the Navy Department and civil service, with the Bureau of Ordinance in Washington, where he worked on the Navy’s first generation of guided missile systems.
Then, Tatigian began his life’s mission of helping small businesses as a small business analyst for the bureau. In this role he developed a small business mobile exhibit and traveled from coast to coast, visiting all state capitals and cities of populations greater than 400,000. For these efforts he received Congressional recognition.
In 1979, Tatigian was appointed by NAVSEA, the Naval Sea Systems Command, as its associate director of the Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization Office, which was renamed the Small Business Program Office. While there, he served as a small business advocate in a role that he relished for decades.
At a ceremony in 2012 that honored his 70 years of service, the Navy’s Office of Business Opportunities Director’s Award was renamed the Sarkis Tatigian Small Business Award.
The award recognizes outstanding performance through exceptionally managed small business programs, challenging initiatives and made significant contributions to the command and DON small business program. Due to his contributions, Tatigian actually won the award that bears his name.
Tatigan often recounted the many success stories he helped create during his tenure. One was the story of a woman-owned small business with two employees that he helped 15 years before. “I kept encouraging them not to quit and helped them fill out the proper paperwork. Now they have 650 employees and $95 million in annual revenues,” Tatigian said in a Navy press release from 2017.
2017 marked his 75th year of civil service and a unique service pin was created to mark this achievement, as there had never been an employee with that many years of service before.
During this celebration he received honors and letters of appreciation from U.S. President Donald J. Trump, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer.
Tatigian explained that he was enthusiastic to work every day, despite the fact he could have retired in 1973.
“But when you don’t have something to wake up for, that’s when you start to decline. And, if you love what you do and derive a sense of personal worthiness, it’s not really work,” he said.