You might remember my mentioning Hélène Rodocanachi’s 105 th birthday in March, which she spent alone in a retirement home at the Trocadero during confinement, and again my lunch with her three weeks ago in Perros-Guirec, Brittany. She was in full intellectual form and only had some difficulties walking around the garden of her childhood house, Rochefontaine, bought by her mother in 1919, and where two of her five children were born on a September 28, before and during WWII. She spent many summers there with her brother and her cousins, in relative confort, practicing ice cold swims in the baie de Ploumanach, and enjoying the cook with a strong breton accent, her crêpes, porridge and breton cake. Well she has sadly left us on August 11 th and was buried this Friday at Josselin, the castle run since 1966, by Josselin, Duc de Rohan, her eldest son.
In the Memoirs she wrote for her family, she was still violently angry at the autonomists from Brittany who had approached her husband the Duc de Rohan during the war, to make him the leader of their collaborationist party. She was a determined gaullist and an anglophile since childhood, very patriotic and she was not going to give up to these criminals.
Born Hélène de Liencourt, the daughter of officer Jean de Liencourt, who died at Verdun, a year after her birth, she was the grand daughter of another officer, the Comte Marcel Bégouën, who died at 38 from yellow fever in Senegal. She was therefore brought up by strong widows with a demanding character, who transmitted their values and sense of effort to her and her brother. From her mother Marie, she inherited a vivacious intelligence and she was curious of everything. Something I felt when I met her for the first time and she questioned me endlessly. She needed to know about people, places, ideas, had a specific modesty, expressed no sentimentalism and could be abrupt and impatient with boring or stupid people: “Life is too short to be spent with imbeciles” she often said.
She married Alain, Duc de Rohan, on May 5, 1937. He was also a war orphan. From then on, she started a stormy relationship with her mother in law, the dowager duchess, at château de Josselin in the Morbihan. The latter never accepted what she considered as a “mésalliance” (the Rohan are among the 10 greatest families in France and were long considered as the kings of Brittany), and she wanted to keep a hand on her grandchildren’s education. Josselin, born in 1938, will be senator from 1983 to 2011, 28 remarkable years during which he also ran the region of Brittany for six years.
Hélène Rodocanachi was very sporty, she skied, played tennis and rode her bicycle, but had also studied at the Sorbonne at a time when it was not so frequent for girls and always regretted not having passed her agregation in English. The great drama of her life was her husband’s long and dreadful illness with polio. A great sportsman himself, he was struck in 1954 by the pandemic which was current at the time, and he survived for eleven years in their apartment of Neuilly. She stood constantly at his side as a go between with the outside world.
After he died, she eventually remarried in 1969, an old friend of theirs, André Rodocanachi, who was a French diplomat with Greek origins. They were posted in Venezuela in 1973 and he helped her recover from these very hard years. She was extremely grateful for this chance to lead a second life and travel extensively with him. He died in 2001. She has since been actively entertaining in her flat of rue Barbet de Jouy, always fun and vivacious, with an impish eye which made her look like Voltaire. Everything fascinated her to the end of her life and her numerous grandchildren were passionate listeners.
She was so energetic that she tired down her family whenever she was staying with them. She sadly saw two of her children Marguerite du Petit Thouars and Patrick de Rohan leave before her.
On August 10th, she went to bed mentioning she felt a little tired, and did not wake up the next day. Dying in her family house, which now belongs to one of her granddaughters, seems like the perfect choice for this lady who was always in a hurry. She probably felt that she could at last, give up the long thread of her life which she had always held strongly. She is survived by Josselin and Oliver de Rohan, and Annick de Beistegui.
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