George Jonas exceeds my capacity properly to eulogize him: my acquaintance with him was exclusively through his newspaper writings and a very occasional video.
I will venture to say that he has been Canada’s most important public intellectual, exceeding even Conrad Black. Jonas has served as a pillar of right thought and action for his entire career. He has opposed Naziism, Communism, and the latter’s home-grown derivative, political correctness. He has stood for freedom when it was unfashionable and inconvenient, as it almost always is.
His was a life of action and reflection. Much of his practical reflections were based on flying and motorcycles, his passions, and I can relate to any man whose life encompassed more than just ideas, but speed, flight, danger, and, in his younger days, picking up attractive girls, and in even younger days, escaping Communist Hungary.
I am told he was the best of friends, and a fine poet. I regret that I have not been acquainted with him personally, while an appreciation of his poetry may lie in the future.
His sort of brother-in-law Conrad Black [they had both been married to Barbara Amiel] had a few words this week in the Post, as a sort of preliminary to his full eulogy.
Others have written eloquently, in the National Post and elsewhere, of the sadness of the death and greatness of the character and achievements of George Jonas, poet, writer, and intellectual, who died last weekend. There will be a secular remembrance occasion in due course, at which he asked me to give a eulogy; so I will not pre-empt myself here, but only repeat what I said when his family asked me to say a few words at his burial. Though we met and were brought together because, decades apart, we married the same woman, and that would not normally seem a matrix for close friendship, George became one of the dearest and wisest friends I, and I think anyone, ever had. He was a great man, who can never be forgotten or replaced.
Let me speak for a moment about Hungarians and the country they come from. Jonas was a refugee from the 1956 uprising against Communist rule in his native country. I think the Hungarians are a special people. Among them are numbered some of the most important mathematicians and scientists of the 20th century, including Eugene Wigner, John von Neumann, Edward Teller, Leo Szilard, Albert Szent-Gyorgy and not dozens, but verily hundreds more. I do not know what is in the genes or in the water, but I have not met an ordinary-seeming Hungarian. I have met Jewish Hungarians, Catholic Hungarians, and Protestant Hungarians. I have yet to meet stupid Hungarians. Its culture allows a free rein brilliance and eccentricity.
If there is one thing I could wish for the future of this country, it would be that Canada could nurture such brilliance and mental rigor as a matter of course. George Jonas found his home here, for which we may all be grateful. Where shall we find another of his likeness? Only by encouragement of talent, and by educational discipline, are such people nurtured and found.
So let us do one thing in memory of George Jonas: let us recognize and encourage such independence of spirit and breadth of mind in our fellow man, and if that means we suffer fools less gladly, it might be a start, though by no means the whole, of an approach to developing a national culture of merit. For surely Jonas had great merit, which can be appreciated in the depth of his wisdom that we were privileged to have known.