STEPHEN Forgacs was 20 years old when he and his 16-year-old girlfriend ran towards freedom amid gunfire intended to kill them.
He escaped at the height of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 to the freedom of Austria and later landed in a refugee camp in Australia, near Albury, before making his home in Newcastle where he created a shipbuilding empire.
Tales of his early life stunned a packed Christ Church Cathedral in Newcastle yesterday at the funeral for Mr Forgacs, who lost his fight with cancer on July 24, aged 76.
Employees dressed in their Forgacs uniforms formed a guard of honour on the steps as his coffin was carried from the church by his son, Stephen Forgacs jnr, and others.
Hunter business leaders, politicians, friends and family mingled with about 100 manufacturing employees from Forgacs outside the church after the service.
‘‘It’s amazing to think how many Hunter people he [Forgacs] would have employed over the years,’’ Paterson MP Bob Baldwin said after consoling the family.
‘‘He was an amazing man and he will be sorely missed.’’
Gizelle, the 16-year-old girl who accompanied Mr Forgacs on his escape from Budapest, later became his wife.
He is survived by Gizelle and their three children Pamela Farragher, Elizabeth Burgess and Stephen jnr.
Forgacs has about 900 employees in the Hunter and more than 1250 across its seven operations, which include Sydney, Tomago, Hexham, Brisbane and Gladstone and two divisions at Carrington.