Harry Kullijian, former Modesto councilman and husband of Carol Channing, dies

dhill@modbee.comDecember 26, 2011 

Longtime Modesto-area resident and former City Council member Harry Kullijian died Monday in Southern California with his wife, Broadway star Carol Channing, at his side, according to their foundation.

Kullijian would have celebrated his 92nd birthday on Tuesday.

B. Harlan Boll, head of publicity for the Los Altos-based Channing-Kullijian Foundation, said late Monday that Kullijian was at the couple's Rancho Mirage home last week when he was stricken. His wife was doing a Christmas show in the area Dec. 21.

Kullijian collapsed the next day and was taken to Eisenhower Medical Center, where he was treated for an aneurysm. Boll said he was treated for the same condition two years ago. Kullijian spent Christmas at home with his family, but Monday was rushed back to the hospital, where he died.

Kullijian is perhaps best-known today as the husband of Channing. But he served for eight years on the Modesto City Council, began C.L.E.A.N. (Citizens Leading Effective Action Now) to fight against pornography and has spent the past decade working with Channing to raise funds to keep the arts in public schools.

"We go to these celebrity events and, of course, everyone knows and loves Carol and wants to talk to her," Kullijian said in a interview with The Bee in October. "Then they point to me and ask, 'Who's he?' So I've adopted a new name: Who's he? It doesn't matter who I am; it only matters that I'm helping someone else."

The Turlock native's family moved to San Francisco when he was 3 years old. Ten years later, he was attending middle school, where he met Channing.

But in the decades between that first romance and 2003 when they were married, Kullijian would lead an active, busy life. He married Gerry Amos in 1942, and they would have two children.

He served in World War II as an artillery officer and would be recalled to duty for the Korean War, serving in Europe, before moving back to Turlock in 1952.

His uncles, he said, offered to teach him how to be a farmer. Three years later, Kullijian bought about 30 acres on Coffee Road and what is now Rumble Road in Modesto. He planted walnuts and had plans to build a development at the site but eventually sold it.

Kullijian found success with investments in other communities and countries, making friends with business and government leaders along the way. But when the 1970s hit with their recession, he said that reawakened his spiritual side and kindled his desire to serve his community.

He served two terms on the Modesto council. After his council career ended, he became one of the founders of C.L.E.A.N., becoming a leader in the fight against pornography.

After the death of his first wife in 2002, he would be reunited with Channing. Two years after Kullijian and Channing were married, they would form the non-profit foundation to support arts education in schools.

He said he is the organizer and Channing is the draw, "using her talent, the sweat of her brow to help children" as he talks to people behind the scenes.

"We feel arts in the public schools is the only way now, when our country is in such a terrible condition," Kullijian told The Bee. "So many kids are deprived (when arts programs are eliminated) of the opportunity to have a vision. I think some of the things we've done in Modesto have been good. Mrs. (Marie) Gallo has done a marvelous thing. The State Theatre has done a marvelous thing. The YES Company has done a marvelous thing to help with getting arts in children's lives.

"We have a saying: We're not trying to save the arts, we're trying to use the arts to save our children. That's the summation of what Modesto has done in my life; it's given me the vision to do this."

City Editor David W. Hill can be reached at (209) 578-2336.

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