Ceremony in honour of Pierre du Bois

HEI, Geneva, 9 October 2007


Pierre and I met in Lausanne in June 1968. He was 25, had already received a first Masters in political science and was about to finish his second Masters in Arts. I was 21 ½ years and a second year chemistry student at the Ecole Polytechnique. We nearly didn't meet: Pierre had returned from Paris, where he was beaten up during the May 1968 riots; he had almost forgotten the invitation to this particular evening – a surprise party at a friend's house, a "sur-boum" as it was called then in French – and it was only while tidying up the papers in his office that he eventually rediscovered, in extremis, the invitation and decided to go. I myself was hesitating because there were demonstrations at the EPUL that evening – weak imitations of the Parisian demonstrations – but the party won in the end.

We found ourselves by chance standing next to each other. He was wearing a beautiful blue tie which is still in our wardrobe. I asked him what he did for a living and he said he was a police superintendent. When it was his turn to ask me what I did for a living, I told him: "You have a choice, either I tell you a lie as you've just done, or I tell you the truth." This introduction must have pleased him, it certainly pleased me. And there followed 39 years of love and happiness.

The reason I am telling you all this is so that you know that, at 25 years, he was as you knew and loved him today: handsome, intelligent, brilliant, fascinating and passionate, loving to tell stories and to listen to them, with an exceptional intellectual curiosity and enormously cultured. Several years previously, at the age of 19, he had taken part in a radio competition, a quiz as they did them back then, and had won the first prize in general knowledge which was a trip around the world with Swissair. He was already bursting with ideas and overflowing with activities and ideas: he had been a foreign policy journalist on the radio, he had taught high school history to students not much younger than he was, he wrote regularly for the Gazette de Lausanne, the Journal de Genève, L'Express, the Quinzaine littéraire, he had created the Jean Davel political club based on the Jean Moulin club in Paris, he was soon going to launch the first weekly newspaper for the French-speaking area, "Nonante", which did not last long because of financial problems. He was full of humour, spirit, energy, laughter, he appreciated beauty, he was sporty, loved to dance the rock-n-roll and the cha-cha. He was wonderful…

A few months later, he left to start his PhD thesis in Paris, where he made friends with Louis Aragon and especially Elsa Triolet, with Fernand Braudel and Le Roy Ladurie. He could have made a very fine Parisian career if only he had been a little bit more interested in the Middle Ages. Finally, back from Paris and later, once his thesis was finished and after teaching a while at the Ecoles Polytechniques, he became professor at the Institute of European Studies in Geneva. And the rest you know, as touched on by his friends and colleagues.

For me, the little emigrant from Romania, who had lost her roots, her landmarks and who was sorrowfully searching for her identity, he not only opened his arms wide. He opened wide windows on life, he broadened my horizons, he taught me the world, he helped me to discover and to understand, he educated me, refined me. He set me the example of exactness, of intellectual honesty, of just honesty, of ethics and civic sense, openness of spirit, of the extreme, of his incredible modesty. Pierre gave me confidence and courage, he gave me new roots, he pushed me and supported me in my professional life in a way that no other man would ever support his wife. We built our whole life together. With Pierre, I felt every morning as if I could leave to conquer the world and in the evening, I couldn't wait to come home and talk to him and to celebrate together. His leaving broke my wings, it just broke me.

His death interrupted him in full activity, in the full joy of life and creativity: he was looking forward to teaching for several years more, he was looking forward to continuing his exploration of Latin America, which started 20 years ago. For 2008 at least 2 colloquia are ready: one for Relations Internationales and another with the Fondation Jean Monnet. Regarding his publications, Pierre leaves us with a book on "European monetary history 1945-2000". In two weeks, I will give the finished manuscript to Philippe Burrin to submit it to the PUF editions. Pierre also left us another manuscript on the Cold War, Propaganda and Culture. He was at the head of so many projects – following The Sonderbund War, he wanted to write a history of the vanquished and would have had access to the archives of the descendants of Siegwart-Müller. Having touched upon the 19th century for the first time, he wanted to go further still and write a History of the Thirty Years War, but he was also dreaming of a history of Venice in the 20th century, a history of international Tanger and I could go on.

He wanted to run a marathon. He suffered greatly from lack of time to do everything he wanted to do and he didn't know, we didn't know, that his time was cruelly counted.

You also have lost a person who was dear to you, a friend, a colleague, a professor – a great professor. Everything that he gave to me, he also gave to you to a certain extent. He deeply loved the Insitute. He trusted Philippe Burrin and Roger de Weck and always held them in great esteem. But he also had worries which troubled him: merging, the disappearance of bilingualism, the abandonment of the BA..

You, his students, his PhD students, I speak now particularly to you. He did everything he could to give you wings in life. He lived for his teaching, he lived for you. Every evening – I repeat every evening all these years – he talked to me about you, of your joys and your pains, he was happy as long as you had worked hard, and unhappy if, perhaps, having neglected advice, you had failed at something. He worked hard by your side to help you advance in your diploma, your degrees, your theses, your life. He was proud of your successes, of your awards. He was ambitious for you, he was making plans, he was constructive, ready to fight, he left nothing to chance, he was driven by an incredible long-term vision. Through listening to him talk about you, I also felt as though I knew you.

And now? Now, don't forget Pierre du Bois, keep a place for him in your head and in your heart, think of his teachings, his recommendations, his example. And if, one day, you need his advice, if you ask youself "what would Professor du Bois have told me?" and if you can't find the answer yourself, phone me and together we will try to find Pierre's answer.

I too need you; we, Pierre and I, we need you. I am setting up the Pierre du Bois Foundation for Current History. Its objective is to promote and support research in the area of current history, including European history, and to provide access to books, journals and documents for students and researchers. Pierre had formulated this wish in writing 20 years ago, he had the intention to create this foundation himself and to bequeath his resources to it, but he didn't have the time to do it, he was too busy with life to think about the after-life.

So I am going to set up this foundation myself and I would like to thank your Director Philippe Burrin for agreeing to be a member of the Foundation Council. Our first activity will be – always in agreement with Pierre's wishes – to offer two Pierre du Bois scholarships for the next academic year 2008/2009 to Latin-American students to come and do their PhD on current history at the institute in the International History and Politics Unit. The scholarships will be for one year and will be renewable. As the Foundation has a stable and assured income – though limited, alas, we are not Bill Gates – this will be a long term activity and this is only the start. Little by little, we will organise events linked to these research works, we will create a Pierre du Bois Prize, we will increase the number of scholarships, we will perhaps create a Pierre du Bois Chair in Current History. We should be ambitious, don't you think? And this is where I need you. I would like to launch an appeal to you: if one of you, in one way or another, today or tomorrow, is interested, is in agreement, would like to work with the Foundation, be associated with it, contribute to its success, let me know, let Philippe Burrin know. I repeat…

To help me, to help us make the Pierre du Bois Foundation work and live, will be, I think, the strongest, most concrete testimony of your friendship, your gratitude and your respect for Pierre and above all, help us keep him alive among us. Thank you for coming here this evening.



Irina du Bois