Aristocrat, steelworker, gentleman. Born May 28, 1934, near Budapest, died Aug. 24, 2012, in Caledonia, Ont., of heart failure, aged 78.
Anthony Szalay never lived the grand life expected of him, but he would tell you that in the end he lived a better one.
He was born Antal Laszlo Jeno Szalay-Berzcviczy, the second son of wealthy aristocrats Laszlo Szalay-Berzcviczy and Anna Maria Dreher. His father’s family were prominent academics and politicians who at some point had been granted the noble title Berzcviczy. The Dreher family originated in Austria and made its fortune with breweries and land holdings across central Europe.
Antal lived with his parents and older brother Imre (Emery) in a home on the estate owned by their grandfather, Jeno Dreher, at Martonvasar just outside Budapest. The boys had the run of the main house, the former Brunswick Castle, and extensive grounds with stables of race horses and a private lake.
Martonvasar had an impressive musical legacy as Beethoven had been a frequent guest of the Brunswick family, who owned the property for more than a century. Family lore maintains that Antal’s first musical notes were played on a harpsichord and piano once used by the master himself.
The Second World War changed everything. Under Communist rule, the family lost its businesses, property and holdings. In 1946, the boys were loaded onto an American Army cargo plane and flown to Rome, where their mother had already fled. They would never see their father or grandparents again.
After periods in Rome, Brazil and Montreal, they ended up on a farm in southern Ontario outside Caledonia. Their names were “Canadianized,” the title dropped, and Antal became Anthony or Tony. He rarely spoke of his past, assuming most people wouldn’t believe him and the rest wouldn’t care.
He lived an undistinguished small-town existence without athletic or artistic triumphs, nor academic and professional success. He went to university, but had to drop out when the family’s financial support from Europe dried up.
Tony then took a job in Hamilton’s steel mills, where he worked for more than 40 years. He eventually finished his degree at night school, but never used it to advance his career.
However, in the course of living his blue-collar life, all the really important things happened: He found genuine happiness and a sense of purpose. He married nursing student Dale Field and remained in love for 50 years. He indulged his children, and ensured that both completed professional educations. His passion for music endured, and he found great pleasure in listening to his children and all seven grandchildren play.
He returned to Hungary a few times and was delighted to find many landmarks of his childhood had survived. In 2001, he visited the estate at Martonvasar, which now houses an agricultural research institute, a Beethoven museum and a concert theatre.
“I was born very wealthy, and then lived most of my life with very little,” he once said at dinner. “I was privileged to learn firsthand that money isn’t such a big deal.”
David and Teresa Szalay are Tony’s children.