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Memorial

ILONA MÁRIA “SALI” GYŐRIK (née Szabó)
ILONA MÁRIA “SALI” GYŐRIK (née Szabó)

July 10, 1925 – May 7, 2011
Founder of the Alba Regia Memorial Chapel
Past Secretary of the World Hungarian Freedom Fighters Federation

Hungarian-born ILONA MÁRIA “SALI” GYŐRIK (née Szabó), after half a century of service on the Washington, D.C. social and political scene, passed away in Winchester, Virginia on May 7, 2011.

Widowed since 1982, she was also preceded in her passing by deaths of both her Hungarian-born children--businesswoman Martha Galitzin in 2004 at the age of 53 and physicist Thomas Győrik in 2010 at the age of 64. Likewise, her Hungarian son-in-law, business entrepreneur, Ivan Galitzin, predeceased her in 1999 at the age of 54.

Her exit from Hungary in 1956 was a harrowing experience. Her engineer husband, József opened the doors of the munitions factory where he worked to the freedom fighters, allowing them to arm themselves for the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. So with Tamás and Márta, her two children from her first marriage, and Zoltán and Erzsébet, József’s children from his first marriage, they took off for the Austrian border.

They found themselves abandoned by the border official who promised to guide them across for another group who had offered him more money. Somehow Mrs. Győrik’s little band made their way across the border. They later found out that the group led by their traitorous border official had been discovered and shot to death by Russian guards. Kneeling down on free soil, Sali vowed she would devote the rest of her life to the service of mankind.

After Austria they settled in Denmark until a National Science Foundation grant was given to her talented husband and in 1959 the family arrived in Washington, DC. Joseph was immediately employed and soon was made head engineer at Garcia, after which she no longer had to work for a salary.

A political and social activist, Mrs. Győrik was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to the Council for the Advancement of Retired People and participated in the monthly White House Prayer Breakfast for many years. She formed the Capitol Hill lobbying team with Istvan Gereben, regularly briefing the President and members of Congress on Hungary’s political status quo and its impact on national and global affairs. Mrs. Győrik participated in the Captive Nations group and under their auspices testified in Congress. She helped initiate the participation of the Hungarian Freedom Fighters Federation in the annual wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Mrs. Győrik arranged the historic visit of Cardinal Mindszenty to the United States as well as his celebration of Mass at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC.

She honored the last request of the Hungarian-born American Civil War hero, Major General Alexander (Sándor) Asbóth to be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. Dying while posted in Buenos Aires as U.S. Ambassador to Argentina in 1868 of war wounds, General Asbóth was disinterred from Argentina and buried in his beloved United States with full military honors. The flag draping his coffin was presented to 22-year-old Virginia National Guard member, Sándor Asbóth, as proud family members and the Hungarian-American community watched.

Earlier Mrs. Győrik was distressed at the tragic plight of too many Hungarian émigrés. When an elderly Hungarian lady without any family here died, Sali arranged for a priest to officiate at the funeral and brought flowers. She and he were the only ones in attendance at the cemetery and were shocked when cemetery officials removed the casket, saying the old lady would be buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave.

This incident motivated her for the rest of her life. Her goal was to care for Hungarian refuges by helping them incorporate themselves into American life and to enrich American culture by raising consciousness in America of Hungary’s innumerable contributions to every walk of American life. Hungarians were Nobel Prize winners and military heroes in wars from the American Revolution to present day, including several Hungarian-born Congressional Medal of Honor winners.

Mrs. Győrik’s first fundraising effort was the Hungarian Ball of 1966 which drew 1,200 international guests and which she spearheaded as her major fundraising benefit for the next 25 years. In all there were all 29 Debutante Balls. She arranged to have the U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen escort the Hungarian debutantes. Among the ball patrons she garnered over the years were Vice Presidents’ wives, ambassadors’ wives, and luminaries such Mrs. Jouett Shouse (née Catherine Filene) and Major General Donald Shelton Dawson USAF (RET). Major General Dawson, attorney and presidential aide, masterminded President Truman’s famous whistle-stop tour and was married to Hungarian actress Ilona Massey

In 1981 she established the Alba Regia Chapel and memorial cemetery on 180 acres of Morgan County, West Virginia land. It is the only memorial chapel in American which honors Hungarian Freedom Fighters. Hungarians from all over the world are buried there. Matter-of-fact, even self-deprecatory about her artistic talents, she herself fabricated by hand many of the superiorly crafted woodcarvings for Alba Regia.

Sali is survived by her granddaughter, Tatiana Galitzin of Arlington, Virginia; her stepdaughter Elizabeth Győrik Debelius of Rockville, Maryland and Elizabeth’s son Attila Toth and granddaughter Jenny Toth of Falls Church, Virginia; and her stepson Zoltán Győrik of Hungary.

Memorial services are slated for June 18, 2011 at the Wesley Theological Seminary, 4500 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC at 11:00 am and interment on June 25th at the crypt in her beloved Albia Regia Memorial Chapel in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Alba Regia Memorial Chapel/Hungarian Freedom Fighters Federation, Inc (HFFF, Inc) PO Box 42048, Washington, DC 20015

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