UDVARDY email@example.com_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2002-12-03 published
Engineer was 'a man of vision'
He convinced Ontario to test rivers and lakes for mercury poisoning and other toxins
By Stephanie CESCA Special to The Globe and Mail Tuesday, December 3, 2002 -- Page R11
Paul DIOSADY, a Hungarian chemical engineer who helped to modernize the Ontario Ministry of Environment, has died at his home in Toronto. He was 88.
Dubbed the "ministry's man of vision" by his colleagues, Mr. DIOSADY, who died on Oct. 24, encouraged and convinced the ministry to enhance its analytical capabilities in the 1960s and seventies critical improvements that were hailed as major breakthroughs at the time.
His influence meant that by the time he retired as chief scientist in 1978, the Ministry of Environment had introduced testing equipment and facilities for mercury, asbestos, pesticides and others.
"He was never satisfied with second-best. That was his legacy," said Otto UDVARDY, a friend and former colleague. "He was a perfectionist."
This trait earned him a reputation early on in his career in Canada. Although he arrived in 1958 with limited English skills, he was determined that all of his ideas were conveyed perfectly to everyone, all of the time.
The method he adopted while working at the ministry was to carry around a roll of paper towels everywhere he went. Whenever he couldn't communicate properly, he would simply take out a sheet of paper towel, draw a picture to illustrate his message and present it to his colleagues.
While the technique was successful, it was soon abandoned. Mr. DIOSADY was a quick learner, so with his newly acquired English skills, he began to rise through the ranks.
Born in Transylvania (now in Romania but then part of Hungary) in 1913, Mr. DIOSADY came to Canada after already establishing a successful career as an engineer in Europe. His interest in engineering began as a student when he learned about the possibilities that applied science provided. Supported by state scholarships, he studied in Romania and completed a degree in mathematics and chemistry and then a graduate degree in chemical engineering.
"He saw applied sciences as a more interesting and rewarding career," said his son, Levente DIOSADY, a chemical engineering professor at the University of Toronto. "He became a very passionate engineer. He was excited about its possibilities."
After completing his studies in 1941, Mr. DIOSADY married Irene SZABO, who was to be his wife for the next 60 years. During the war, they fled to Budapest where Mr. DIOSADY worked as an engineer for the largest leather factory in Hungary at the time. But after spending four years there, Mr. DIOSADY decided to take his expertise elsewhere, so he designed his own leather manufacturing plant, which opened in 1948. At his own plant, Mr. DIOSADY used his creative energy to experiment and invent new tanning agents.
"He thought [his plant] was his greatest achievement because he built it, designed it and ran it until the end of 1956," Levente DIOSADY said.
During that time, Mr. DIOSADY also sat on a European commission with other leading leather-manufacturing experts. Aware of the pollution generated by the leather industry, the commission discussed ways to limit environmental damage.
But Mr. DIOSADY's work on the commission and within his plant came to a halt during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. He decided it was time to flee the country.
At the time, the border changed almost weekly, making it dangerous to cross. To safeguard his family, Mr. DIOSADY first reconnoitered the situation alone. He spent four days crossing the Hungarian-Austrian border and back again so that he would know exactly what to expect when it was time for all of them to go.
"He went and scouted out the route he was going to take," his son said. "He was that kind of perfectionist."
On Dec. 31, 1956, Mr. DIOSADY, his wife and their son Levente slipped away to Austria, from where they intended to emigrate to North America and leave war-torn Europe for good.
"The three of us, with another couple, dragged a toboggan with a suitcase across three miles of fields at night," said Levente DIOSADY. "We barely missed a patrol, who fortunately were talking to each other upwind. We hid in a haystack for about an hour before continuing." Finally, the party reached Austria and safety. "We crossed over a canal into Austria. The Austrian villagers had set up a hut with a stove and some wood, just for refugees," said Levente Diosady. "It was very exciting for a 13-year-old."
In Vienna, Mr. DIOSADY was given the option of moving to either Canada or the United States.
"He chose Canada because there was no conscription in Canada. He didn't want his son to go to war," Levente DIOSADY said.
After a brief stint in Montreal, which initially attracted him because he was French-speaking, Mr. DIOSADY uprooted for the last time.
In Toronto, he worked as a chemist for a short while before settling down at the Ontario Water Resources Commission, which later became a part of the Ministry of Environment.
He retired 20 years later in 1978, but only after his efforts had helped to enhance the ministry's capabilities, urging and convincing the ministry to acquire state-of-the-art equipment and facilities.
As a result of Mr. DIOSADY's efforts, the ministry was able to test for mercury before 1970, when a worldwide mercury scare came to North America after poisoned fish were discovered in Ontario.
"He was a workaholic," his son said. "And scientifically ahead of his time."
Mr. DIOSADY also helped to form the Hungarian Canadian Engineers Association, and even served as its president for a term in the late fifties.
"Within the association, he was highly respected all the time," said Steve KOVACS, a friend and former president of the organization. "He really wanted to do all he could for us."
Although he was officially retired in 1978, Mr. DIOSADY continued to work on a part-time basis. He became a consultant to Canada's pharmaceutical industry and for 10 years helped in the production of generic drugs.
Outside of work, Mr. DIOSADY played the piano and the violin instruments he taught himself to play while in university. He also spent time researching Hungarian folk music and, in his final years, writing his memoirs.
In addition to his son, Levente, Mr. DIOSADY leaves his wife, Irene, and two grandchildren, Andrew and Laslo.
Paul DIOSADY, chemical engineer; born in Transylvania, Hungary, on Dec. 28, 1913; died in Toronto, Oct. 24, 2002.
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