Dr. Balázs Seléndy, born in Budapest, Hungary, to Jenö Seléndy and Irén Kosma on September 5, 1937, passed away peacefully in his home on July 5, 2021, after an intense and devoted life of public service and study in three countries. He spent his last years in the pursuit of lifelong passions, including for reflection, writing, reading, karate, and photography, living quietly with his beloved Patricia Gambitta in Fly Creek, New York.
Balázs grew up in war-torn Hungary, spending his childhood in the midst of the deprivations of World War II. With Calvinist and Catholic parents but a Jewish paternal grandfather, his family stayed beyond reach of the Nazis due in part to his father’s military service to the Austro-Hungarian empire during WWI.
In October and November 1956, as a young medical student, Balázs fought in the spontaneous, student-led revolution against the Soviet-backed Hungarian People’s Republic. After a large Soviet force invaded Hungary and destroyed the uprising, rounding up revolutionaries, Balázs was forced to leave his family, including younger brother Szabolcs, and to emigrate with other Hungarian refugees under cover of darkness across the border to Austria. His father gave him a treasured Leica camera to pay for his crossing, but, after Balázs helped a fellow refugee escape, she paid for him, and he photographed with the Leica for decades.
After being resettled from Austria to Belgium, Balázs learned French in a matter of months, and earned admission into medical school at the prestigious Université Catholique de Louvain, where he trained as an obstetrician/gynecologist. At the same time, he built upon a childhood love of American literature by learning English. Toward the end of his studies, he fell in love and, in 1963, married Francoise Jadot, who died tragically of lymphoma within the following year.
In July of 1964, Dr. Seléndy emigrated to the United States. After an internship in Philadelphia, he became a resident at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. There he met medical researcher Janine Irvine, who became his wife for six years, and with whom he had children Philippe (1966) and Bela (1968).
During the Vietnam War, from 1968-1970, Dr. Seléndy served as a medical officer for the U.S. Army with the rank of major. He became an American citizen in 1970.
That year, Dr. Seléndy took up his post as an Ob/Gyn at the Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital, a teaching hospital affiliated with Columbia University. In addition to delivering thousands of children and developing a speciality in micro-surgery, Dr. Seléndy became a champion of the midwife program. In 1978, Balázs married Mildred Mook, with whom he had Maude (1980) and raised his stepson Zachary.
Dr. Seléndy served at Bassett for nearly 40 years, long past retirement age, out of love for the profession, for teaching, and for his community.
A lifelong and gifted critical thinker, Balázs was a voracious reader in every subject matter, particularly in literature, science, history and philosophy. He wrote volumes of poetry in three languages, labored over poignant English translations of Miklós Radnóti, and published books of verse in Hungarian. He also was a passionate and skilled photographer and carpenter.
In 2002, Balázs met his long-term partner and closest friend, the fiercely independent Pat Gambitta, then the Director of Community Services for Otsego County.
At the age of 65, Balázs first took up motorcycling, with delight. Seven years later, he was struck broadside by a car at 60 mph. After his bike flew into the air and spun around three times, he was able to walk away from the accident with broken ribs and minor injuries. From then on, he marked the date of the accident each year as a sign of gratitude for the additional life he was given.
Dr. Seléndy practiced karate for decades, and became a senior black belt under Hidy Ochiai, ultimately wearing an oxygen tank during kata as he struggled with late-stage emphysema. He attended classes at the dojo through 2019, at the age of 82, and then continued his practice at home until his recent illness.
Balázs treated everyone equally, with kindness and generosity, and befriended people from all walks of life, including from the medical profession, the dojo, and his literary, photography, and motorcycle circles, and he loved his upstate New York community for more than fifty years.
Balázs is survived by loving children and grandchildren: Philippe and his wife Jennifer, and their children Maximilian and Liam; Bela and his wife Helen, and children Nicolas and Linnea; Maude and her husband Terry, and their children Luke and Leilani; Zachary and his wife Carmen, and children Karina and Avery.
A memorial service to celebrate Balázs’ extraordinary life will be held in the spring of 2022 in Fly Creek.