Balint Vazsonyi is hardly a household name. To most Americans, it isn’t even pronounceable. Yet Balint, with his odd name, was a true American, a man who in every way embodied the spirit of this nation. When he died on January 17, 2003, there is little doubt this republic lost one of its heroes.
I knew Balint Vazsonyi fairly well and admired him a great deal. Yet we exchanged very few words. He seemed to know what I was thinking even without them.
Balint was a great patriot. Though born in Hungary, he reveled in American life. Like so many others obliged to live under the yoke of Communism, Balint had an unequivocal faith in and a deep appreciation of the American creed.
When he ran for mayor of Bloomington, Ind., Balint spoke in stirring tones about his devotion to his adopted country. More recently — two years ago — he toured the whole nation, going from state to state discussing the American Founding. He was indefatigable. No matter what objection might be raised, Balint had an answer.
He often spoke of the four points on the American “compass”: the rule of law, private property, individual rights, and Americanization. Notions such as “social justice” he rightly considered imprecise and designed for rabble-rousing. Yet he always had patience with and kindness for his detractors.
I remember a luncheon in Indianapolis at which a local official declared that he didn’t believe in private property. Rather than simply dismiss his claims, Balint listened attentively before delivering his polite but searing rejoinder.
In addition to his superb intellect, Balint had tremendous musical talent. He was one of the world’s great pianists. One evening at a Hudson Institute conference organized on the Maryland coast, Balint sat at an untuned piano and mesmerized everyone in attendance with his musical gifts. Lady Margaret Thatcher, who was there, described it as one of the most enchanting evenings of her life. Balint played Schumann, Beethoven, and Mozart with equal dexterity.
But it wasn’t only his fingers that were nimble. Balint could have charmed light bulbs. I discussed knotty issues in my own life with him on several occasions, and he always responded with great interest and sympathy. His advice was both heartfelt and commonsensical. Whenever I left him I felt confident about the future.
Roughly a year and a half ago, Balint called to tell me his doctor had found tumors on his liver. There was neither anger nor self-pity in his voice. He said, “I will fight this as I have fought many enemies in my life.”
He had a devoted ally: his charming and remarkable wife Barbara. She doted on him and was always at his side, a truly loving companion. Even on his bus tour of America, Barbara was there attending to his every need. Balint was blessed.
I didn’t see Balint in the last months of his life, but I thought of him often. I remember with fondness watching the film he made of his trip around America. I can recall the speeches he gave at the Hudson Institute. And I can still see him playing the piano with such extraordinary grace.
Balint was one-of-a-kind, a force of nature, an enduring spirit. Wherever there are life-affirming values, there is a Balint Vazsonyi; wherever there is a defense of constitutional freedom, there is a Vazsonyi. Hungary gave America a wonderful gift, who will not soon be forgotten. I consider myself privileged to have been able to call him my friend.
— Herbert London is president of the Hudson Institute, John M. Olin Professor of Humanities at New York University, publisher of American Outlook, and author of the recently published Decade of Denial.