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DoD’s longest serving civil servant passes away at age 96

Sarkis Tatigian delivers remarks during a celebration of his 75 years of federal service at the Washington Navy Yard. Tatigian enlisted in the Navy in 1943 and currently serves as the associate director of small business programs at Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jackie Hart/Released)
April 08, 2020

The Department of Defense’s longest-serving civil servant was eligible to retire in 1973, but he continued to work until the day he passed away at age 96.

Sarkis Tatigian joined the Navy during the Second World War in 1942 at age 19 and worked there until his death. He first enlisted as a radio inspector at the now-defunct Philadelphia Naval Shipyard and the Navy Office of Inspector of Naval Aircraft in Linden, New Jersey, according to a Tuesday announcement from the Navy.

He began working as an aviation electronics technician’s mate in June 1944. There he helped the development of the Navy’s first guided anti-ship munition, the ASM-N-2 “BAT” glide bomb. The bomb later became an operational weapon used by the fleet at the end of World War II.

He returned to civilian service by becoming the small business advocate at Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) in 1946. He stayed there until his death.

“Mr. Tatigian truly lived a life dedicated to advocacy and the service of others,” said NAVSEA Executive Director, James Smerchansky. “His decades of work oversaw the expansion of the small business industrial base and more than $100 billion in contracts awarded to diverse, small businesses. As we bid fair winds and following seas to Mr. Tatigian, NAVSEA will greatly miss his presence but we will never forget the positive impact he made on this command and the entire U.S. Navy.”

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Tatigian developed a small business mobile exhibit that traveled coast-to-coast, visiting all state capitals and cities with populations exceeding 400,000. He received Congressional recognition for his organizational efforts on the exhibit.

Asked what kept him working even in his 90s, Tatigian said he enjoyed the variety of work.

“Every day is like getting a new job,” he said in an interview marking his 75th work anniversary. “The situations that arise, the problems that arise, the people that you talk to on the phone or in the office or in the business world. That’s probably the driving force: The variety, instead of being on an assembly line to tighten a screw or a bolt or something all day.”

The Naval Sea Systems Command celebrated Tatigian’s 75th anniversary of civil service in 2017. He worked there for so many years that a unique service pin was specially made to mark the occasion, as that many years of service had never been given before to an employee.

He explained at his 75th anniversary what else had kept him driven to continue his service each day.

“I was retirement eligible in October 1973,” Tatigian said. “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.”