A stellar example of the contribution made by people who choose Canada: A few words on the life and times of Doctor Margaret Beznak

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Doctor Margaret Beznak with one of her research subjects. Elizabeth Motherwell, “Elle succède à son mari à la tête de la faculté de physiologie de l’U. d’Ottawa.” La Tribune, 3 February 1960, 17.

Good morning, my reading friend, good morning. Yours truly would like to move away a little bit from his favorite subjects to offer you a little something about medicine, one of the many subjects examined by one of the museums of the group which includes the mind-boggling Canada Aviation and Space Museum, at Ottawa, Ontario, namely the Canada Science and Technology Museum, also at Ottawa.

The first paragraph of the article published in the 3 February 1960 issue of the daily La Tribune of Sherbrooke, Québec, the home city of you know who, no, not Lord Voldemort, which gave birth to the article you are looking at right now, bright eyed and bushy tailed, is worth quoting, in translation: “The famous situation where a secretary marries her boss takes a completely new turn in the case of Dr. Margaret Beznak, 45, who is carrying out research in Ottawa.” And long live patriarchy!

You will remember that the person who wrote this text was a lady, and not a dinosaur.

Departing from my usual approach, yours truly will begin his story starting at the beginning and ... What is it you’re saying, my reading friend? My presentation style is so classically chronological that you find it a bit monotonous? Uh, good.

Once upon a time, say I, chronologically, there was a small Hungarian family into which was born, in 1914, Hortobagyi Margit. Her parents were doctors. Indeed, his father was a chief surgeon in a hospital in Budapest, the capital of the Hungarian part of Austria-Hungary, the Lands of the crown of Saint Stephen or Transleithania. Hortobagyi actually had 7 doctors among her close relatives.

Following family tradition, like her brother also, Hortobagyi studied medicine. She obtained her university degree from Magyar Királyi Pázmány Péter Tudományegyetem in 1939.

Hortobagyi married the Hungarian physiologist Beznak Aladar around 1934, a few months after their first meeting. The latter was then her superior / teacher / mentor… And yes, my reading friend, this explains the sentence quoted by yours truly at the beginning of this issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee. Back then, Hortobagyi and Beznak studied the mysteries of the human heart.

In 1935, Beznak was appointed professor of physiology at the Magyar Királyi Pázmány Péter Tudományegyetem. He also headed the physiology institute of this university. His wife supported him in his work.

Beznak left Budapest with his spouse in 1946 to take up the post of director of a research institute in biology, the Magyar Biológiai Kutatóintézetet.

Beznak’s stays in the United Kingdom in 1925-27 and 1935, as well as his contacts with researchers in Western Europe, led to his dismissal in 1948 by the government imposed by force by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Let’s not forget, Hungary was for all intents and purposes occupied by the USSR from 1945 onward. Beznak and his spouse then took the road to exile, after having traveled a distance of about 32 kilometres (20 miles) on foot to reach the border. All their possessions then fitted in a bag.

Beznak and her spouse lived for a while in Stockholm, Sweden, before going to Birmingham, England. She worked on the causes of heart disease at the University of Birmingham thanks to a grant from the British Medical Research Council. It was probably around this time that Beznak Margit and Aladar became Margaret and Aladar Beznak.

Beznak and her spouse crossed the Atlantic in 1953 and settled in the Ottawa area, in Hull, Québec, more specifically, it seemed. She and he soon joined the staff of the University of Ottawa. Beznak became an assistant professor in 1956. Her spouse, for his part, became director of the Physiology department of the Faculty of Medicine.

Beznak’s spouse died in July 1959 at the age of 58. Confident of her abilities, Beznak applied to replace him at the head of the Physiology department. She got the job before the end of the year. Although Beznak was very demanding, she was known for her dedication, fairness, intelligence, understanding, hard work and unfailing support for the student body.

This appointment certainly did not end his research career. This being said (typed?), Beznak did most of her work during the summer vacation period. Over the years, she published and co-published a large number of articles in American, British, Canadian, West German, etc. specialised magazines. In 1964, Beznak received an award for research excellence from the University of Ottawa.

Beznak became vice-dean of the Faculty of Medicine at an undetermined date. She sat in the Senate of the faculty and also held the position of acting dean at an equally undetermined dates – 2 first for a woman working at the University of Ottawa. Better yet, Beznak was the first woman elected to the University of Ottawa’s Board of governors – a first for a woman in Canada. This being said (typed?), it should be noted that she stated at some point that she did not subscribe to feminist ideals.

Beznak took a well-deserved retirement in 1979. The University of Ottawa awarded her the title of Professor Emeritus shortly thereafter.

“Mama” Beznak, as generations of students called her, left this world in January 1999, at the age of 84.

Peace and long life, my reading friend.

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Rénald Fortier