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Leslie L. Gonda

1919 - 2018 Obituary Condolences
Leslie L. Gonda Obituary
August 20, 1919 - March 16, 2018 Leslie Gonda (Laszlo Goldschmied) was born August 20, 1919-a Jewish, Hungarian child of the Depression who was raised in the remote farming village of Mezötur, where members of Jewish families weren't expected to amount to much. First son of Jeno Goldschmied and Malvina Mandel, and the third of four siblings, he was from an early age unusually committed to overcoming the adversities that life would hand him. As a young child in elementary school, he tutored children-sometimes many years his senior-in order to pay for his own tuition. At eighteen, he became one of a select number of Jewish people in Hungary to pursue higher education on scholarship. However, his studies were soon interrupted when Nazis arrested him in Budapest and sent him to a labor camp where he spent two years planning an escape with two other captives. Using the typewriters in the military office, Leslie's friend created false papers representing the three men as members of the Hungarian army. In October 1944, they dressed in stolen uniforms and walked out the front gates with fabricated orders to report to Budapest. The name Goldschmied was a mark of Judaism brighter than any yellow star, so Leslie chose "Gonda" for his surname, borrowing it from a Christian family he knew in his village. While Leslie escaped the grips of the Nazis under a pseudonym he would carry for the rest of his life, his father and dear sisters, Lucy and Magda, perished in the Holocaust. When the war ended, he met his future wife, Susan, in Budapest the day she returned from Auschwitz. It was all just a matter of luck when she knocked on the door of distant friends whom she remembered from childhood. Luck that those friends were home when she arrived at their door. And luck that Leslie Gonda was sitting in their living room when she walked in. In each other, they found a new beginning. How they fell in love and fled to Switzerland to marry; how they boarded the S.S. Columbus to Venezuela to start a new life and family in 1947; how they moved to Los Angeles and started anew, is the embodiment of the American dream and their love sprang forth three new generations. In their years together, Leslie worked as everything from a bank teller in Venezuela, a farmer in Canada and ultimately as an "airplane peddler," as he called it, when he co-founded a company in Los Angeles that transformed the global, commercial airline industry as we know it. After Susan passed in 2009, Leslie often expressed his wish to be with her-to be spared the pain of facing a day in which they were not together. And yet for his family and those he loved, he was determined to push on and see their lives and stories unfold. Leslie and Susan leave behind a legacy not just in their family, but also in their constant philanthropic pursuits of caring for those in need across the United States, Israel, and the world. They called this their "investments in humanity." "We believe in giving back for our own good fortune in this country. We are grateful for the opportunity to share the American dream with others around the world" - Leslie L. Gonda "Apu," as his family and friends knew him, loved his family, Latin proverbs, geography, bolo ties, poems, cattle, phone calls, lunch visits, driving his grandchildren to school, and life. He proudly worked and arrived at the office at 7am until he was almost 99. He is lovingly remembered by his beloved son, Lou and his wife, Kelly; his daughter Lucy; his daughter Lorena and her husband Steven; his niece Judy Rodan and her children, Ronnie, Liz and Louie; his grandchildren: Lily and Grace Kiralla, Eli and his wife Mika, Eva and her husband Logan, Nicolas and his wife Jessica, Michael and his wife Emma, and Jonathan Gonda; his great-grandchildren: Sawyer, Jemima and Lazlo Gonda, and Jack and Luke Green and a large extended family. Leslie was a doting honorary uncle, cousin, and godfather to countless people who kept his spirit young and his heart filled with love. To those who knew them, Susan and Leslie's love and generosity were the modern embodiment of one of Leslie's favorite Greek myths, the story of Philemon and Baucis. Like the interwoven branches of the Oak and the Linden trees, they will remain together forever. When reflecting on life, Leslie often quoted one of his favorite Latin proverbs: "Sic itur ad Astra." Like this, we reach the stars.
Published in the Los Angeles Times on Mar. 20, 2018
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