Peter Koutoujian was just two generations removed from grandparents who had fled the Armenian genocide to seek refuge here. He was a working-class Waltham kid who had parlayed a public high school and Bridgewater State education into a New England Law degree and young career as a prosecutor and state representative.
And now, as members of the Harvard crew rowed beneath him on the sun-sparked Charles River, he was literally steps away from the educational promised land. He cried.
“I just remember thinking how proud my grandfather would have been to know that his grandson was able to go to Harvard University, and how proud my dad was that his son was able to go to Harvard University,” said Koutoujian, who has been Middlesex County Sheriff since January 2011. “I still get emotional thinking about that.”
And as sure as he is regarding the particulars of that postcard morning walk from the Back Bay to Cambridge, he is just as clear about the organization to whom he owes thanks for it.
“If it wasn’t for the Rappaports, I’m certain I never would have attended the Kennedy School,” said Koutoujian, whose Rappaport Fellowship funded the tuition for his two-year, midcareer program there. “I utter Jerry Rappaport’s name every time I get the chance.”
Buoyed in large measure by the education, experiences and connections that came with that Harvard Kennedy School education, Koutoujian now oversees a department that encompasses 700 employees, a $70 million budget, five unions, up to 1,000 incarcerated individuals in a geographic area of 54 municipalities and 1.6 million residents.
He is also President of the Major County Sheriffs of America, a two-year post that will take him through the end of 2021. It’s an organization of over 100 sheriffs from across the country, representing more than 120 million Americans.
And in November 2020, he was appointed to a newly formed national steering committee to guide Justice Counts, the largest, most comprehensive effort to improve the availability and utility of criminal justice data to date.