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A legend has left us

I first met François within a couple of months of joining Reuters in 1977, when I caused a kerfuffle on the graduate training programme by asking if I could do a stint on the French Desk. Duriaud gently talked me out of it. We kept in touch while I was a trainee in Paris, when I went to Iran after the revolution and later when I was a very young and green Israel bureau chief and he was Middle East editor. Because of political sensitivities, I wasn’t allowed to report to Bahrain or be edited by them, but I did attend the Middle East bureau chiefs’ conference, where Duriaud made sure I got a chance to meet and mingle with colleagues from Arab countries.

He came to Berlin on some trumped up pretext in 1991 with Daniel Fogel, the country manager for France, to size me up and decide whether I was fit to be chief corro in Paris. He became my boss and mentor for six great years in France in 1991-97. He was a kindly paternal figure to many of us - a workaholic more loyal to his staff than some of them deserved.

For a Frenchman he wielded English understatement with extraordinary subtlety. One of his stock phrases was “more later”, which really meant “I don’t want to talk about this any more now, and don’t bother raising it again.” Then there was “good point”, which meant “OK smart arse, you’ve made your point. Now move on.” And then there was “are you sure that is right?”, which meant “you’re totally wrong. Go away and think again.”

François was a master journalist, a wonderful boss and a warm, hospitable, if often taciturn, human being. He rarely showed his emotions or talked about himself. One felt close to him without it ever being expressed in words. He told me one night after a Pantagruelian dinner at one of his favourite bistrots that he was born on the day the Nazis invaded Russia. It was one of the few personal things I knew about him.

Alas, he lived just long enough to see Thomson Reuters dismantle the French language service that was his pride and joy. About that, as about other disappointments in life, he was stoical. A legend has left us. ■