“We stand on the shoulders of giants”

lh2

Tuesday morning, the 20th, my father-in-law, Leslie Hanusz, died at home, in his bed, with his wife, daughters, and granddaughters, about the house.  A peaceful ending to what was otherwise an amazing life.

Born in Budapest, Hungary, June 17th, 1926, to a wealthy, industrialist family, his primary schooling was with the Piarist Fathers.  His secondary schooling was at a military academy in Marosvásárhely.  He graduated 2nd in his class and was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant of cavalry in December 1944.  Assigned a platoon, he was sent to central Poland, and spent the remaining months of WWII trying not to be shot by the Red Army; his stories from this time are harrowing.

Rotated off the front lines two weeks before the German surrender, he and his men found themselves on a Danish island, POWs of the British Army.  Some months later, responding to a telegram from his father (the communists had taken all they had), Les resolved to return home.

He was arrested by the AVO (secret police) at the border and tortured for about three months.  Surprising his jailers by not dying, he was used as slave labor first in the fields by the River Tisza, then later as an excavator for the new metro lines under the Danube; decompression sickness and aneurisms killed many… his mother would use a hot iron on the nitrogen bubbles in his skin on his back when he came off shift.  ‘Paroled,’ but watched, he worked in the black, gray, and white market to help his family & friends.  When the Counter-revolution of late-1956 began, rather than immediately fleeing, he used his (rare) commercial driver’s license to shuttle hundreds to the Austrian border and freedom.  Only when the Russians came did he know it was time to go.  Sick with a high fever, he lied and bribed his way across the frontier.

Weeks later, he and some other Hungarian refugees were allowed – sponsored by Ed Sullivan – to immigrate to the US.  Working two jobs as a laborer, he began teaching himself English.  Through a mutual friend in the refugee community, he met Susanna Kerekes, whom he soon married.  Now working three jobs, one being a engineering draftsman for Dow Chemical, he came to the attention of the head of that department.  Given increasing difficult assignments – and constantly learning more engineering and receiving more professional certifications – in ten years Les was one of only a handful of men in the US that could design and certify very high-pressure vessels and pipelines, leading to his travelling constantly about the country, but always making time for his wife and two growing daughters, who, so taken with the marvel of a man they had for a father, became chemical engineers.

I first met him in the Spring of 1989, while dating one of those daughters.  He was pleasantly surprised to find someone who could keep up with his free-wheeling discussions of history and politics… even if I couldn’t keep up with him at drinking; try though I did.  Whether it was a Manhattan in the winter or a Martini in the summer, these conversations went on for over a quarter century.  His keen insights would surprise me every time.

After a couple of heart attacks and some joint replacement, he finally started slowing down around the age of 86.  He still kept in constant correspondence with friends now all over the world, but fewer every year.  He’d a hard first half of his life, but was certainly blessed for the second.  He was my father-in-law, but more importantly, my good friend.

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