Obituary: Francois de Grossouvre

Francois Durand de Grossouvre, doctor, businessman, political adviser: born Vienne (Isere) 29 March 1918; President, Bon Sucre 1944-63; Vice-President, A. Boyer 1949-63; Vice-President, Chambre de Commerce Franco- Sarroise 1951-62; Charge de Mission aupres du president de la Republique 1981-85; Head of the Presidential Hunt 1986-94; died Paris 7 April 1994.

FRANCOIS DE GROSSOUVRE shot himself in the head in his office in the Elysee presidential palace. He had been a close aide and adviser of Francois Mitterrand's for more than 30 years, and the place of the suicide could not have been more of an embarrassment to the French President.

De Grossouvre was the son of an aristocratic banker. He was a qualified doctor who had a farm in Lusigny (Allier). But he also came to occupy an important position in the Mitterrand entourage. The association between de Grossouvre and Mitterrand probably goes back to 1955, and it was Pierre Mendes- France (whose name is a byword for integrity) who introduced them. But their close friendship began during a trip to China in January 1962. The two men came from similar backgrounds with the same traditions and a shared Catholicism (then a rarity on the Left in France), and they both had a love of rural France. De Grossouvre was a member of Mitterrand's small but influential Convention des Institutions Republicaines. In moments of tension in his political career Mitterrand would take refuge in de Grossouvre's property in Lusigny. Mitterrand's liking for long walks with close compagnons, either in the country or through Paris, is well known. On these de Grossouvre was a frequent compagnon as 'Minister for Walks'.

In many photographs of Francois Mitterrand the elegant, slim silhouette of the goatee-bearded de Grossouvre can be seen in the background. De Grossouvre was one of the faithful and had no higher desire than to serve. This does not mean that de Grossouvre was a 'step 'n' ftchit'. He was a proud man and was sufficiently sure of the friendship at crucial points to give advice candidly, but he does not seem to have been reliable and was frozen out. His role was more that of an intermediary than a prince's counsellor.

In between the ballots of the 1981 presidential elections, de Grossouvre was sent on a charm offensive to the neo-Gaullist Jacques Chirac whom he impressed with his forthright manner and the promise ('as Mitterrand's best friend') that proportional representation at local or legislative elections would not be introduced - in fact it was.

Originally a supporter of the extreme right Action Francaise and then (possibly on Resistance orders) of Vichy's Service d'Ordre Legionnaire, he entered the maquis in 1942 or 1943 and ended the war as a French army doctor. In 1946 he became involved in anti-Communist intelligence work and other secret missions. At the Liberation he went into business, creating a number of successful companies, and was Vice- President of the Chambre de Commerce for the Sarre region. He helped finance an election campaign for Charles Hernu (later Minister of Defence at the time of the sinking of the Greenpeace boat Rainbow Warrior by French special agents) and Mitterrand's four presidential campaigns, and was deputed by Mitterrand (when he became First Secretary of the Socialist party in 1971) to control the party's finances. The delicacy of that position has only just begun to be made public as the Socialist Party's peculiar finances have been revealed.

Following Mitterrand's election victory in 1981 de Grossouvre was made Charge de Mission aupres du president de la Republique, a post he held until 1985. He was in charge of liaison with the secret services but also of presidential security (and phone taps) and dealt with Middle East affairs and with arms sales. He went on secret missions to Iran and was a frequent visitor to Lebanon (to President Amin Gemayel), to the Emirs of the Gulf States, to General Zia ul-Haq of Pakistan, and to King Hassan of Morocco. However he was seen to have overstepped his authority and competence and even to have spoken in the name of the President when he should not have. In the Quai d'Orsay, irritation with him was tangible and he was called 'Oncle Picsouvre' ('Uncle Where's-the- money-in-it'). He fatally managed to annoy leading figures in the government and clashed with senior ministers. The President was not pleased, but it was not his style to sack loyal compagnons.

In 1985 de Grossouvre moved to the Dassault aircraft company and in 1986 was put in charge of the Presidential hunting parties (President Valery Giscard d'Estaing liked to hunt but Mitterrand prefers golf). The light of the President's countenance ceased to shine on de Grossouvre, who was replaced in the President's esteem by the equally shadowy Roger-Patrice Pelat, a businessman, who died in 1989 awaiting trial for fraud. De Grossouvre then lost influence and a role although he continued to undertake secret missions from time to time.

(Photograph omitted)

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