Musician, teacher, financial adviser, mentor. Born Feb. 1, 1943, in Szeged, Hungary. Died Sept. 27, 2011 in Edmonton, of bladder cancer, aged 68.
Kalman Kovacs’s love of learning was evident at a young age, as was his characteristic determination. When he was 7, he decided to begin using his middle name of Kalman, instead of his first name, Attila. Unbeknownst to his parents, he made the switch on his school forms, and declared to any questioning teacher that it was how he would henceforth be known, a tale Kalman liked to recount with mischievous delight.
Showing a natural gift for music, Kalman began playing the trumpet at 8. While his father cautioned him that a musical career could be a difficult path, Kalman resolved to pursue his passion, and entered the Zoltan Kodaly Conservatory of Music in Debrecen at 14. He subsequently graduated from the Faculty of Music at the University of Debrecen, and by 22 he was teaching at a music school in Berettyoujfalu, where he soon became principal.
In 1971, while giving a public talk on Bartok, Kalman met Judit, a dentist from Budapest, who had launched a practice in Berettyoujfalu. They soon fell in love but decided not to marry as they were considering leaving Hungary; it was well known that the regime would not permit married couples to vacation outside the country. After obtaining one-month exit visas for separate destinations, Kalman and Judit left without even telling their families of their plans.
Both qualified as refugees in Vienna and found work in their respective fields, but worried that Austria was still too close to the aggressive Soviet Union.
Upon being accepted as immigrants to Canada, they married and flew to Edmonton in mid-1975. As their professional credentials were accorded no weight by the provincial regulatory bodies, Kalman began to teach music privately. Although teaching provided his primary income, Kalman never denied students who couldn’t afford lessons.
As one of his former students, Kathleen Gonnet, noted recently, lessons were not always about music: “Sometimes, we just talked instead of me playing songs for him. I learned so much from him and consider myself very fortunate to have had him for my teacher.” He was also a patient father, allowing his four children to make their own mistakes, but always there to console them.
Kalman began a second career in life insurance and financial planning in 1985, along with Judit’s help. He eventually expanded his business to include investments and personal wealth management, an endeavour he managed with the same integrity, honesty and devotion as he taught music.
Work and teaching kept him busy, but summer invariably included a family vacation, whether camping in the wilds of British Columbia, or a trip to Hungary. Kalman also made time for the finer things in life; an oenophile with a notorious sweet tooth, he referred to wine and chocolate as the two essential food groups.
When Kalman learned of his cancer diagnosis, he approached it with the same strength as he did other challenges, and continued to work and teach music as long as he could. Noting that he had no regrets about how he had lived his life, Kalman felt his Christian faith had prepared him for his final days, and he was entirely at peace. He said that while cancer had taken its toll on his body, he could feel his spirit growing stronger as the end approached.
Anita Kovacs is Kalman’s daughter.