Memorial today for Bela Toth, pilot killed in weekend plane crash
By CHRIS TISCH
Published January 21, 2004
CLEARWATER - Family and friends of Bela Toth, a Clearwater pilot killed in a plane crash Saturday, will remember him in a memorial service today.
Mr. Toth, 79, was killed when his plane crashed near the Long Center off Belcher Road. The crash occurred after a mid-air collision with another plane as Mr. Toth tried to land at Clearwater Airpark. The crash remained under investigation Tuesday.
A memorial for Mr. Toth will be from 2 to 4 p.m. today at the Pinewood Village Clubhouse, 601 N Hercules Ave.
Family members said Mr. Toth's lifelong dream was to fly. In Hungary, only men in the military could be pilots, but Mr. Toth, president of an electronics company, didn't want to join, said Ralph Schroeder, a family spokesman.
In fact, Mr. Toth was an anti-Communist. In 1972, he faked his passport and defected to the United States, Schroeder said.
He settled in New Jersey and got a job as an electronics technician. He couldn't speak English, but within three years he grasped the language and ascended to an electronics engineer position.
Two important things also happened about that time: Mr. Toth became a U.S. citizen and got his pilot's license.
After moving to Florida in 1983, Mr. Toth became a popular figure with his neighbors and other pilots at the Clearwater Airpark.
"He was known for his lively manner and quick smile," said Schroeder, the son-in-law of Mr. Toth's life companion. "He never said one bad thing about any person in his life."
Friends said Mr. Toth also was quick to help fix anything.
"This is probably the most brilliant man I've ever met in my entire life," Schroeder said. "He could fix anything, explain everything."
Coincidentally, the lively Mr. Toth was a member of the Long Center and swam there three times per week. His family believes he steered his crashing plane away from the center as he went down.
The family is asking that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the center in Mr. Toth's name by calling Fred Fisher at (727) 726-2245.
Mr. Toth is survived by his life companion, Audrey Haggerty of Clearwater; his son, Bela, of Houston; a brother, Jozsef Toth, of Jacksonville; one grandson; one great-grandson; and other members of his and Haggerty's families.