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Obituary: Béla H. Bánáthy (1919-2003)

Béla H. Bánáthy passed away at the age of 83 on September 4, 2003, at Enloe Hospital in Chico. A longtime resident of Carmel and Monterey, he and his wife Eva recently moved to Chico. He was born December 1, 1919, in Gyula, Hungary, to Peter and Hildegard Banathy Pallmann

Béla was an educator, researcher and author. A laureate graduate of the Hungarian Royal Academy (1940), he earned a master degree from San Jose State University (1963) and a doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley (1968). He wrote extensively on systems theory for global improvement and was widely respected for his systems theories, writings, and teaching. He was a mentor to hundreds of individuals over his lifetime and an inspiration to tens of thousands.

Dr. Béla H. Bánáthy

Through eight decades, his unwavering belief in human betterment guided and inspired him. He believed that self-empowerment - when learned, lived, and exercised by families, groups, neighborhoods, organizations, communities, and social and societal systems of all kinds, is our only hope to give direction to our evolution, and to create a society that serves and promotes the common good, and in which we can all take pride. This is empowerment that cannot be legislated, cannot be dictated from above, and cannot happen by good intentions alone. It will only be attained if we individually and collectively learn to engage in moral conversations by which we define those values and qualities that we seek to realize, give voice to our aspirations, envision ideal images of the future, and bring those images to life by purposeful design. He held that this is what democracy is about!

In the early '40s, he was on the faculty of the Hungarian Royal Academy, in Budapest. After WWII, he served as minister for youth among Hungarian refugees in Austria and was President of the Collegium Hungaricum at Sell am See, Austria. He came to the US with his wife and two of his sons in 1951, having to leave two sons in Hungary, unable to obtain their release until 1956, when the family was reunited. During the '50s, he chaired the Hungarian Department of the Defense Language Institute (formerly the Army Language School) in Monterey, Calif., where, during the '60s he served as Dean of ten language departments. During the '60s and '70s, he taught graduate courses and seminars in systems and design sciences at San Jose State University and the University of California, Berkeley. Since the early '80s, he developed and guided a systems and design science doctorate program at the Saybrook Graduate School in San Francisco where he was Professor Emeritus.

Béla had a lifelong involvement with the Boy Scouts, the genesis of which was the 1933 Boy Scout World Jamboree in Hungary. At that Jamboree, Lord Baden Powell, the chief of the Boy Scout Movement, inspired him through his message of forever seeking and following the ideal. Throughout his life Béla took active roles in the Boy Scout movement at local, regional and national levels. Among Béla's numerous contributions to the Boy Scouts was the development in the 1950's of the White Stag Leadership Development ProgramTM . He is the designer of the leadership development model used today by the Boy Scouts of America. During the '70s, he was invited by the National Councils of the Boy Scouts of Mexico, Costa Rica and Venezuela to introduce the White Stag Leadership Development ProgramTM in those countries.

Over the last several decades his Research and Development work focused on the application of systems and design theories and methodologies in social, governmental, educational, and human development systems. During the '70s and '80s, he was Program Director, Senior Research Director, and Associate Laboratory Director of the Far West Research and Development Laboratory in San Francisco, where he directed over fifty research and development projects; several involving the design of complex large-scale systems.

He was founder and President of the International Systems Institute, a non-profit research agency, which has held over twenty international research conferences in several countries. A Past President of the International Society for the Systems Sciences, he served on the Board of Trustees of the Society. During the '80s, he was on the Executive Committee of the International Federation of Systems Research and from 1994 to 1998, served as President of the Federation, which has a membership of twenty-five national systems societies. He is a co-founder of the General Evolutionary Research Group.

Over the decades, he chaired conferences of various national/ international professional associations, edited numerous compendia and conference proceedings, and co-chaired a NATO Advanced Workshop on Comprehensive Systems Design.

He authored several books, many chapters in books, and over one hundred articles and research reports. His most recent book is Guided Societal Design. A Systems View (2000). He was honorary editor of a number of professional journals and contributing editor of Educational Technology. He served on the International Advisory Committee of Systems Practice and on the Board of Editors of World Futures.

He is survived by Eva Bánáthy, his wife of 62 years; four sons, Béla A. Bánáthy Jr. of Monterey, Leslie J. Bánáthy of Gardnervile, Nev., Tibor L. Bánáthy of Chico, and Robert C. Bánáthy of Atlanta, Ga.; 10 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

From the Chico Enterprise Record, October 3, 2003