Obituary for Dr. Simon Kovacs

Dr. Simon Joseph Kovacs

Simon Joseph Kovacs, age 95, died on February 1, 2024, in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

Simon was born in Répceszemere, a small village in Hungary, on March 9, 1928, the first of seven sons born to Joseph and Ilona (née Simon) Kovács. His first name lovingly preserved his mother’s maiden name. He went to high school in Sopron, and to college in Szeged and Budapest, seemingly destined to follow local tradition of the eldest son becoming a Jesuit priest.

But then the life-changing upheavals started. During WWII, Jewish classmates and friends were removed from his high school, rounded up in an alleyway, never to appear again; he only learned much later that they’d been killed. An entire street of buildings where he lived for a year during school was completely destroyed by bombing. Late in the war, Russian allied forces began staying in Répceszemere. They grabbed Simon when he returned home one night from Sopron, interrogating and threatening to shoot him as a suspected Nazi spy, until his father was able to convince the Russians that this was his son, newly returned from school.

The communist occupation of Hungary intensified after the war with more incidents that frightened and alarmed him. The Catholic schools were occupied by the communists, and he and his classmates were locked down in a basement. In 1949 he escaped Hungary in the middle of the night. Like a scene out of a movie, it was a stealthy effort to avoid soldiers and guards, and crawl through barbed wire and other barriers at the border. For several years his parents and all but one of his brothers thought he was dead; they couldn’t know that he’d fled, lest they be held and interrogated in retaliation. Alone, Simon made his way through several European countries, awaiting an end to the Russian occupation – but it didn’t end. Eventually he left Italy on the transport ship Fair Seas as a displaced person from the war. His intended destination was Australia, but upon arriving in the UK in December 1951, the ship for Australia had recently departed and there wouldn’t be another one for months. He learned that another ship was leaving for Canada soon, and so rather than wait, he changed his mind and our destiny – otherwise this story would be recounted somewhere else, and in quite different accents. Eventually his parents and brothers in Hungary learned that he was alive, well, and safe.

After arriving in Canada, the life-changing upheavals were over. Simon made his way to Toronto and worked in a factory making heating elements for ovens and stoves while saving up for his further education. His brothers smuggled his transcripts out of the country to enable him to apply for medical school. He was accepted at Queen’s University and moved to Kingston, where he met and fell in love with Marylin Ann Liston. They were married on September 5, 1959. Upon his graduation (Queen’s Meds ’62), they moved to Toronto for his rotating internship at Toronto East General Hospital. Sometime after this he set up a general (family) practice in Richmond Hill, Ontario. But seven years of doctoring proved more than enough for him. Bored and tired of it, he closed his practice in 1973 and went to work for the Ontario Ministry of Health in Toronto, later settling in Glenburnie after the offices moved to Kingston. He held that position until retirement at age 65. After that, he settled into his favorite activities of working in the backyard, reading history and fiction (Margaret Atwood, Pierre Berton, Robertson Davies, Mordecai Richler), listening to the Metropolitan Opera, watching movies, and keeping up on world news. He never returned to Hungary (but stayed in touch with overseas calls), nor did he leave Canada except for two brief trips into the USA.

Along the way Simon and Marylin had three children, all of whom followed in his medical footsteps and became university professors too: Michael Joseph (UWO Meds ’86, a hematologist in London), Christopher Simon (Queen’s Meds ’89, an endocrinologist in St. John’s, and visual artist), and Katherine Ann (Queen’s Meds ’92, internist and endocrinologist in Kingston). He was a quiet, stern, but fair parent who encouraged, supported, and delighted in his children’s pursuit of academic excellence. He showed his love by always being counted upon to be there, whatever the hour, when one of us needed transportation to and from our academic and extracurricular activities.

In the last several years, age and the pandemic took their toll on his energy and fitness, such that he needed the support of a nursing home. So too did Marylin. They remained inseparable through 64 wedding anniversaries until his recent death parted them.

Simon is survived by his devoted wife Marylin, his children Michael (m. Judy), Christopher (m. Lisa), and Katherine (m. Ian Sempowski), as well as grandchildren (Caileigh, Jamieson, Matthew, Aidan, and Philip), step-grandchildren (Michelle Sempowski and Emma Walters), and the 15-year-old Yorkshire Terrier “Teddy” that he so loved. He is also survived by two of his Hungarian brothers: Joseph (lives in Szombathely, Hungary) and George (lives in Miami, Florida).

He was preceded in death by his parents, four of his Hungarian brothers (the first Leslie who died as a baby, the second Leslie, Nicholas, and Andrew), and his step-grandson Brian Sempowski.

The family wishes to thank the staff at Trillium Nursing Home for the excellent care, and Katherine for being on point for the last several years in looking after both parents.

A private family service will be held on February 12 at 2 pm.

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