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Augusta Paton - Biography

Augusta Paton, wife of János Kemény, was born on the Greek island of Kalymnos. Her parents, William Paton and Irene Olympiti, had her christened in the Orthodox faith, but following the early death of her mother she moved to be with relatives of hers in Denmark who were involved in the shipping business, thus she was confirmed as an Anglican. She first journeyed to Transylvania in the company of her brother, John, when they visited the Transylvanian Plain at the invitation of a landowner. John was here when the First World War broke out and as a British subject he was interned. During this period he learned Hungarian and could still speak the language in the 1960s. Despite his bleak wartime memories, he returned in 1922 with his sister Augusta and they visited acquaintances, including János Kemény in Brâncovenești (Marosvécs). They set off on their tour of Transylvania in a motorcycle and sidecar, which broke down not far from the castle of Brâncovenești (Marosvécs). It took quite a while before the locals, who had never seen such a vehicle, were able to repair it.

This is when Augusta met her husband-to-be, János Kemény, who as a fluent English speaker had long chats with the Greek-Scots woman. Just one year later, on 29 October 1923, they were married in Geaca (Gyeke) on the Transylvanian Plain. They eventually had six children in all. Jánoska, godchild of Baroness Elemér Bornemissza, Carola Szilvássy, died aged just two. Jánoska was followed by three girls and two boys: Mikolt, Klió, Zsuzskó, Árpád and Miklós. In the meantime Augusta learned Hungarian, studying from literature and culture under Bánffy and Kós. Notwithstanding this, she introduced many English customs to Brâncovenești (Marosvécs), and the family always spoke in English with each other. Even so, she, together with her husband, committed themselves to the protection of the Hungarian language and culture. For 22 years, right up until 1944, they organized meetings of Erdélyi Helikon, which went a long way to supporting the cause of Hungarian literature in Transylvania. Augusta devoted enormous attention to making the venue for meetings of writers more comfortable, seating her guests while looking after every detail. She was the one who made excursions around Gălăoaia (Galonya) and Scaunul Domnului (Istenszék) an integral part of the Helikon gatherings.
She and her husband enjoyed travelling and nature, and they were equally at home on the shores of Scotland and on Greek islands as they were in the Mureș (Maros) valley. Augusta loved Transylvania to such an extent that she did not even leave the region during the rule of communism. In 1945, they lost everything, the Germans looted their mansion, taking away what they could carry. In her recently published autobiography, which is perhaps the most important memoir of Transylvania written by a woman, she writes in detail about the interwar period and after. In this volume of inestimable value, she presents the nationalization programme in Romania, the secret police, stories of those forced to relocate to the Danube Delta, and party-state attempts to drag down theatre and cultural life. Thanks to her ingenuity and survival instincts, she and her family managed to live through this terrible period. She was a brave woman who stood her ground even in the most difficult and trying of times. Her diary reflects not only contemporary Transylvanian society, political battles, artistic and scientific life, but it also brings to life Augusta’s childhood memories and life on the Greek islands. Thanks to her erudition and great skills as an author, the book is a highly readable account of the key moments in her life.
From correspondence that has survived we know that Augusta spent her sixties in relative peace, with most of her children having left the home and married. During this time she had the opportunity to travel, visiting England and Greece with her husband, but in the meantime she was passionate in her exploration of the natural wonders of Transylvania. Her husband died in 1971, and she lived very modestly in Târgu Mureș (Marosvásárhely) until her death. She endured a lengthy illness and finally departed this world on 27 July 1989. Baroness Kemény, Augusta Paton was interred alongside her husband in the park of Brâncovenești (Marosvécs) castle-mansion.