Author Armen Bacon named Fresno State’s 2015 Top Dog

by Kathleen R. Schock

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Armen Derian Bacon is accustomed to the unexpected. So when a fire alarm twice interrupts her keynote speech to hundreds of Clovis Unified School District employees, she effortlessly switches gears, sharing a childhood memory that explains her fear of fire. Within minutes the crowd is charmed by her unique blend of humor and grace. “I’m always sharing my insides with the rest of the world,” she says with a smile.

As a featured columnist at The Fresno Bee, sought-after public speaker and author of two books (“My Name is Armen: A Life in Column Inches” and “Griefland: An Intimate Portrait of Love, Loss and Unlikely Friendship,” co-authored with Nancy Miller), Bacon is a master at finding insight into the human condition.

But she says her current success as an author and inspirational speaker was never an aspiration during her childhood in southeast Fresno, time as an undergraduate at Fresno State or in the two decades she served as administrator of communications and public relations for the Fresno County Office of Education. For Bacon, the spark that ignited her passion to write was an unexpected phone call delivering the unthinkable news that her son Alex had died as the result of an overdose.

“I remember the feeling of being thrown out in the middle of an icy ocean, surrounded by sharks,” she says. In the days and months that followed, Bacon found herself writing compulsively as a tool to help navigate her grief. “Words became my oxygen. I was writing to save my own life.”

This new passion led Bacon back to Fresno State, where she spent four summers honing her writing skills as part of the CSU Summer Arts program. It was also through Fresno State that she was introduced to her writing partner Nancy Miller, who also was grieving the death of a child.

On Oct. 9, Bacon was honored as the Distinguished Alumna — the highest honor given by the Fresno State Alumni Association — during the Top Dog Alumni Awards Gala at the Save Mart Center. Her story of transformation echoes the life experiences of the 13 individuals who were recognized as distinguished alumni of each of the University’s academic colleges, the Department of Athletics, the Madden Library, the Division of Student Affairs and the Division of Graduate Studies.

“The honorees this year represent the very best of what it means to be a Bulldog, and we are excited to have celebrated each honoree’s inspiring accomplishments,” says Jacquelyn Glasener, director of the Alumni Association.

It’s been 11 years since Alex passed away, and Bacon is quick to admit that some days are better than others. Nonetheless she is giving herself permission to be happy again — and in the process inspiring thousands to do the same. “It’s our scars that turn into beauty marks.”