Autobiography Index

We landed in Canada on 15 July 1968. Already the next day I started to look for work, while I sent Gábor to see how he could register as a student at McGill University, where he had already been accepted. I paid a visit to the Immigration Service, where they were not very encouraging. All the jobs they had available were in education, teaching food science and the like in high schools and technical colleges, all in French. This was not very promising, and I decided to go to Ottawa and see if I could find something in an institution affiliated with the Ministry of Health. We did not have much money, I still had not received the $5000 that I was supposed to get from Ghana, neither had I been able to transfer as yet the few thousand dollars I had managed to save in a Swiss bank. So I went to Ottawa, where my friend from Ghana Charlie Farmilo and my cousin's husband László Eidus both introduced me to Arnold Mannel, who was head of the Toxicology Division of the Food Advisory Bureau of Health and Welfare Canada (now Health Canada.

I was hired almost immediately, with a starting salary of $12,000 per year. My work here was almost identical to what I had performed at a desk or on mission in Hungary and Ghana - except that I had very little opportunity to do laboratory work. The topics I was occupied with included food additives, food contaminants, maximum permitted concentrations of heavy metals, licensing and control of pesticides, etc. My work was made more interesting by participation in factory visits and scientific conferences. However, I had no more opportunitiy to perform research. What was a positive change was the fact that the children could choose any profession they wanted, we could move about without restrictions, we did not have financial problems any more and - especially - we were free of the oppression that persisted in Eastern Europe. In order to keep some contact with the scientific literature, I accepted the position of external abstractor with Chemical Abstracts (CA). They sent me 3-4 abstracts per week, although what they paid hardly covered the postal expenses. Of course, I only accepted articles on subjects close to my professional work. I continued this work for about eight years, after which CA converted to a computerized production system and they did not need abstractors any more.

After about two years I was contacted by Tibor Kemény, a Hungarian colleague who had worked in the same institute as I in Budapest, and who planned to emigrate to Canada after his contract in Kenya was over. There was an open position suitable for someone with his qualifications in our Division, and I recommended him. He was hired. Thus as soon as he arrived in Canada, he had a job - and his salary was quite a bit larger than mine, because he was a doctor. After he spent 6 months with us, I went to my boss and asked him why I was not getting a higher salary, since Dr Kemeny was getting one even though he was doing more or less the same work as I was. He said: "You are right". Almost immediately my salary was practically doubled - I now earned $22,000 per year. This happened in 1970.

My work continued uneventfully until Arnold Mannell retired. His successor, I still do not know on whose recommendation, was Jim Long, who was brought in from the United States, even though there were highly experienced colleagues in the Division still far from retirement age, such as Ed Middleton, David Clegg and Roy Hickman. I was never able to locate the name of Jim Long in Chemical Abstracts, or in any professional journal - as far as I know, he had never published anything, he did not understand the scientific discipline we were in, and - what is more important - he never assumed responsibility for anything, he would not sign his name on any professional document. It was almost impossible to work under him, or to produce anything worthwhile. Finally, it was agreed with his superiors, that is at the Director and Deputy Minister level, that I could stay on in the Division one year after formal retirement age, i.e. until my 66th birthday, working on just one subject: I would prepare, with the help of the first computer ever introduced into the Division, a bibliography on the toxicology of lead, which is one of the most important food contaminants. During my last year at work I was therefore able to analyse about 3000 publications concerning lead, in such a way that the information would be available according to various search criteria. I do not know whether this approach to information was maintained, because soon after I finished the work I moved to Edmonton, and my contact with the Division ceased.

My son Gábor meanwhile got married, and he found a job with the Occupational Safety and Health department of the International Labour Office in Geneva, Switzerland. He still lives there, with his wife Barbara and his younger son Robert. His older son Patrick has grown up by now, and is a student in Vancouver, British Columbia. My daughter Liz became a geologist. She married another geologist, Philippe Erdmer. They live here in Edmonton, together with their two sons Paul and Timothy (Tim). We moved to Edmonton because of them.

Thus I was able to establish a professional life for myself in Canada, but Erzsi was not. As we discovered, only people with Canadian library degrees could work as librarians in this country, unless they were able to authenticate their foreign diplomas by taking a special exam. Erzsi was not able to do this, because her language knowledge was not sufficient, and because she had no local library experience. Still, once she managed to find an auxiliary job in a library in Ottawa, but as soon as her superior discovered that she knew French, and even some German, what was more she could read the Cyrillic alphabet, her temporary position was terminated: clearly, her supervisor was afraid that Erzsi knew more than she did. Although Erzsi enjoyed the free Canadian spirit and the opportunities enjoyed by her children, she remained nostalgic for her good posiition in Budapest.

Nevertheless, everything was going fine, until in 1974 a small tumour was discovered in her left breast. Erzsi did not agree to a complete removal of her breast, but the tumour was excised surgically - and completely, it seemed. Unfortunately, the histological exam revealed it to be malignant. Six years later another tumour was removed from under her arm, it was again removed, seemingly without a trace. Finally, however, in 1989, when we lived already in Edmonton, new symptoms appeared, but this time they were more serious, with tumours in the breast bone, and then in the lungs. The doctor said that Erzsi was inoperable. By the beginning of 1990 she began to have respiratory problems, and had to rely on a long tube connected to an oxygen cylinder as an aid to her breathing. Still, she managed to move about the house freely, she continued to cook and to take care of small grandson Paul when he was with us - we maintained our lives as before.

On the night of 9-10 May 1990 Erzsi collapsed in the bathroom. She was taken to the university hospital in a serious state. We notified Gábor in Europe, who managed to fly in next day. Erzsi died in the evening of 12 May without recovering consciousness. She was cremated, and - according to her last wishes - her ashes were taken by Gábor to Hungary, where he, together with Erzsi's brother Laci, scattered them in the forests of the hills above Budapest.

We had a very good marriage all the way to the end. We loved each other, we had similar tastes in almost everything, we had the same friends and even the same enemies. I don't think that there was any time during the 41 years of our marriage that we regretted being together.

Thus I was left alone, and I felt quite at a loss being on my own. I also felt that Erzsi had been right before she died, when she told me that I should not remain alone should she die first. I think that after a good marriage the widow or widower tends to find a new companion after the death of a spouse. After a bad marriage, this may not be the case. Therefore I asked my cousin Ági to place a wanted ad in the Budapest daily Magyar Nemzet, with the text: "70-year-old widower, living in North America, is looking for a compatible wife...". I received 130 answers. I responded to 15 of these, there were follow-up letters to 7, after which I visited Budapest as well as Miami, as Magyar Nemzet has a readership even there. Finally, in January 1991, I married Julcsa Máthé, in Miami. With some difficulty, she received her Canadian immigration papers and in December 1991 we were able to come home to Edmonton.

I am now 83 years old. The story is not yet over, but I leave the writing of it to others.

Edmonton, 18 October 2002.

Copyright Gabor Sandi 1998-2018

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