May 24, 1934 - January 9, 2018
Irma Maria Szabo (née Valint) died peacefully in her bed at Parkview Home in Stouffville on January 9, 2018 at the age of 83. She leaves her son Victor and his wife Meredith, grandchildren Paul, Eric and Daniel, brothers Jim (Sandor) and Imre Jankovics, sister Erzsi and their children. She was pre-deceased by her husband Paul (Pál). She was in good hands at Parkview, the staff very compassionate and caring as she declined with dementia.
Irma was born in the rural village of Lázi, Hungary on May 24, 1934. Lázi was a peaceful farming village that was affected by WWII. Facing the stigma at the time of having been born out of wedlock, she was raised by her grandparents and keenly felt the loss of her beloved grandfather Kálmán and dear uncle Istvan (Steve) in 1944. As a student she went to Györ for gimnásium (high school) and then to Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest to study mathematics and physics. A top student, her studies were cut short in her third year with the Russian invasion in 1956. She escaped to Italy with future husband Pál and eventually they arrived in the province of Québec Canada in 1957 as political refugees.
Canada offered a new start and a new set of challenges. Married in Montréal to Paul (his name now anglicised) in 1957 and bearing her only child Victor in 1958, life in a foreign land was uncertain. She made her way as she could through manual labour and as a lab technician despite a compromised domestic environment. Eventually she settled with her family when they bought a house in the village of Teeterville Ontario in 1966. Teeterville provided a level of stability for 20+ years. The spacious country yard with a large vegetable garden, and open wood fireplace for cooking, provided an opportunity for reconnecting with estranged traditions. Her Hungarian cooking using fresh vegetables and home-cooked sauces from the garden was absolutely delicious, all learned on her own in Canada. Hers were the very best stuffed peppers and cabbage rolls!
Her strong intellectual and creative spirit was set back by recurring episodes of bi-polar (manic depressive) illness starting in the 70s. She rebounded. Repeated hospital stays, mis-diagnoses, coarse drug therapies all took their toll. Still, between a variety of jobs as a lab technician and manual labour including tobacco to make ends meet, she went back to school. She graduated with honours from Mohawk college in Hamilton as a chemical technician. Touchingly for this writer, she even tried returning to her math and physics pursuits at McMaster University in Hamilton in 1980 – she and her son were just one year apart in their studies and often met on campus.
A few years after her husband died in 1988 she sold the house and lived comfortably enough on her own with community support in Hamilton until dementia made it unworkable. With death comes renewal. The year before her husband Paul died of pancreatic cancer her son happened to meet Meredith, the love of his life, whom he married shortly after Paul’s passing. A very difficult, but renewing year for Irma as one generation could overlap with the next.
Fast forward to 2018 and Irma is survived by three fine now-adult grandchildren, Paul, Eric and Daniel. Each are following very different pursuits (math/computers, music, history/math), all very much in her spirit. Creative, embracing a challenge and true to themselves. (Sorry guys.)
Irma leaves so much that’s positve despite setbacks in her life. She was restlessly creative – be it thoughtful poetry, crocheting, spending wonderful days with her son preparing Christmas eve puppet shows for her husband returning from shift work, to prose deeply rooted in her experience, to the simple visceral pleasures of preparing fresh nourishing meals. She loved music and live theatre, ballet and figure skating, and musicals especially. Lawrence Welk was a staple at her apartment. And a good murder mystery.
As a commemoration, knowing Irma, it seems appropriate to weigh what she could accomplish and what she would value. Instead of donating money consider enriching lives through creating, learning and discovery. Embrace the arts. Be the arts, in whatever way you find expression for yourself. Sing out of tune. Make the world richer and more accepting by sharing experiences with others.