BOOKS Rozsa gave much back to Calgary
The pertinent facts of Lola May Estes Rozsa’s long life are easily discovered reading her obituary, published in the Calgary Herald when she died at 92 in April of 2012.
But the real woman behind those facts — her voice and her personality — lives on in this beautiful book, a paean to her memory. This is the sixth in the University of Calgary’s The West series, edited by Aritha van Herk, a series that uses creative nonfiction, as written on the frontispiece: “that explores our sense of place in the West — how we define ourselves as Westerners and what impact we have on the world around us.”
It does deserve the “beautiful” label, both for the quality of the printing, the heavy stock used and, of course, by the voice contained within the pages. My Name is Lola may have been written by Susie Sparks, but the voice is all Lola, all the way through. And what a voice it is: strong, determined, Texaslusty and forthright. Here is the life story of one of this city’s cultural icons, one of Calgary’s civic benefactors and whose contribution to the life of this city with her husband, Ted Rozsa (who died in 2006), covers the gamut from the arts to music to golf.
Wherever they saw a need, they jumped in. Lola says the best lesson she ever learned from her mother was that wherever they were (Lola was the youngest of seven children) the way to make friends quickly was to become involved “in a helpful way in whatever community we happened to land. Quite frankly, that may have been the best life lesson I ever learned.” And become involved, she did. By the time Lola and Ted were married, she was used to moving — I lost count of the number of times her Presbyterian preacher father was reassigned to various small towns. So their peripatetic life as Ted was transferred from town to town — “good thing I was raised by an itinerant preacher,” she says — wasn’t a shock to her.
She had no idea where Calgary was and she writes: “They had some kind of rodeo every year. It sounded pretty rough.
“We were going to have to stay at some railroad hotel called the Palliser. I just hoped it was clean and had hot water.” Yes, I laughed out loud when I read that, but I’d also just read the story of how she lived for a year with a baby in dia- pers and no hot water.
And when they got here, Lola remembered her mother’s advice and threw herself into the life of this community. Because of her and women like her, because of their volunteerism, Calgary has music and art and cultural centres. The U of C has a musical performance centre because Lola saw music students practicing their instruments in the stairwells. She started the Benny the Bookworm sale to raise money for the CPO.
Along the way, Ted left Shell and started his own company, Frontier Geophysical, which gave a newly minted geophysicist his first job after university. Why should this matter? Because it is an example of how intricately intertwined all of our lives are. That new graduate was Tom Ford, my uncle.
Lola’s story is Calgary’s story: a city cobbled together by pioneers who arrived in various waves from around the world. (The Rozsas were part of what was indelicately termed the “American invasion” of 1949, sent north to cash in on the discovery of oil. She says: “It was made clear in so many ways that so many people thought that, once we were through pillaging their resources, we’d take the money and run.”) Obviously, they didn’t cut and run; they stayed to help build this city, aided by men and women who believed as the Rozsas did — that giving back was the best way to receive. “What a wonderful adventure we’ve had; what rich blessings we have received.”
The book is replete with family photos and the one of Lola in a Minnie Mouse hat at her greatgrandchild’s birthday party is laugh-out-loud charming.
This book would be a wonderful seasonal present for any civic historian. It might even have some life lessons for a generation who fails to see the value in philanthropy. My Name Is Lola will change their minds.
IS A RETIRED COLUMNIST.
Lola Rozsa, left, represents her husband Ted during his posthumous induction into the Calgary Business Hall of Fame in 2010.