1928 - 2012
Magda passed away peacefully, without pain, and in her loving husband's arms at Mount Sinai Hospital on November 30, 2012. Magda was a larger-than-life character - with character! Her life was a sine wave of success and crisis. They don't make them like Magda any more!
She was born in a suburb of Budapest, an only child. Her father, Erno Halmos, was a successful electrical contractor, and little Magda lived the pampered life of the Hungarian upper middle class: chauffeur, cook, a Viennese nanny, gardener, etc. Then the world collapsed for this Jewish family when Hitler's armies marched into Hungary (the country that sent the largest number of Jews to the death camp of Auschwitz). Little Magda and her family hid in the countryside, travelling before the troops in horse and cart. Erno tried to purchase false papers for himself, his wife Ibolya and little Magda - from an agent provocateur! When she found out her father was being held in Gestapo headquarters, young Magda marched into the headquarters and in perfectly fluent German (thanks to nanny) managed to sweet talk them into releasing her father! Probably the only Jewish father and daughter who walked out that door!
Later Magda who was, shall we say, very outspoken, chafed under the Communist dictatorship's strict thought and speech control, and its iron fence around the border. When the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 presented a chance she and her first husband, Gabor Kellner, and their 8-year old son Peter escaped at night on foot across the border to Austria (outfoxing armed patrols, flares and dogs), and ultimately to Canada. They had no money. Magda didn't speak English. So she got a job as a waitress in the Csarda Hungarian restaurant. Magda soon brought out her parents to Canada.
Magda was artistic, smart, industrious, beautiful and charming. She rose to become one of the most famous Canadian builders, first in Toronto and later in Ottawa. She built or renovated more than 1,000 houses, chiefly in Rosedale and Forest Hill in Toronto, and Rockcliffe Park Village in Ottawa, over a period of 30 years. In her day, she was dubbed by some as ''the Queen of Rosedale''. Her houses were spectacular. She designed them all herself. She never had to advertise. She was a remarkable businesswoman: above first class quality in design, workmanship and materials; one fair price, no haggling, and her word was her bond. She never asked for anything she wasn't entitled to under the Toronto by-laws. She was respected by her many friends in the building department, the construction trades, the real estate offices, and the elite circle who purchased her product. She was and probably still is the only Toronto builder to win a bikini contest in Acapulco.
In 1970, she and her second husband, lawyer Arthur Pennington moved to Ottawa, where Arthur joined the federal Department of Justice. But after a few years, in 1974 Magda and Arthur hankered for new adventure, so they downed their respective tools, bought a 39-foot cruising sailboat in Taiwan, and proceeded, the two alone, to sail the South China Sea for more than two years, braving capture by the Communist Chinese, typhoons, uncharted coral reefs, pirates and storms for a marvellous adventure of a lifetime. She was a brave little lady. And a true adventurer.
They then returned to their former sober lives and pursuits, but now in Toronto. Magda and Gabor's son Peter Kellner in turn became a renowned Toronto builder. Later in about 1989, Magda and Arthur both ''retired'' to goulash-Communist Hungary, with more travel in mind. And when, to everyone's astonishment the iron curtain collapsed in 1990, Magda started a new building business in Budapest, bringing the light and open interior spaces of North America building style to a Stalinist city. They published magazine articles about her and her houses there - too. She was still building spectacular homes and condominiums in her late 70's - an unbelievable ball of energy.
In December 2010, this energetic outspoken lady suffered a massive stroke. She was paralyzed, unable to eat or speak. She required 24/7 nursing care. When her condition had sufficiently stabilized, Arthur engineered a second ''escape'' from Hungary to a large old home in Moore Park, Toronto. Magda still enjoyed ''outings'' to flower shows, Toronto island, African Lion Safari, Bolshoi Ballet, Cirque du Soleil, and 3 trips to Niagara Falls.
She was predeceased by her first husband, Gabor. Her husband Arthur of 42 years grieves. Her son Peter Kellner, his wife Irene, and his three children Andrew, Jenna and Rebecca; and Arthur's son Alex Pennington, his wife Cheryl, and their two children Jessica and Carson; all mourn their loss. A secular ''Celebration of Life'' Memorial Service will be held on Saturday, January 26, 2013, 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. at The Visitation Centre, The Mount Pleasant Cemetery, 375 Mount Pleasant Road, Toronto. All Magda's friends and acquaintances are cordially invited to celebrate her long and remarkable life, and swap ''Magda stories''. E-mail condolences may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. They will be collected in a binder at the service. If you wish, as an expression of sympathy, donations may be made to the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Ontario.
Thursday December 20, 2012
© Copyright 2013 The Globe and Mail Inc. All Rights Reserved.
The Globe and Mail, 444 Front St. W., Toronto, ON Canada M5V 2S9
Phillip Crawley, Publisher