When Henri de Turenne died last year on August 23, at 94, I was so sad, I could not write about him. His modesty, his elegance, his youthful mind and his fantastic sense of humor made him, till his last days, the most fun friend to visit and to listen to. I admired and respected him enormously. A year later, we like to remember.
His father, an ace aviator during the First world war, made a lasting impression on him and he led his own adventurous life as a war reporter and a historical film director. A correspondent for AFP, the French Press agency, in Berlin after the war, he used his experience of living in Germany where he was partly raised. He then worked for the then incredibly popular France Soir, a daily afternoon paper which died with the progress of television. He once told me how he had covered Queen Elizabeth’s marriage, watching television in the Paris office. It is then that he realized that the golden age of the press was over.
He had won the Prix Albert Londres (the French equivalent of the Pulitzer) for his coverage of the Korean War in the Figaro and was still sitting on the jury when he died. His colleagues describe him as saying in the meetings: “be more daring, you are a bunch of old people…” After leaving France Soir and the great Pierre Lazareff, he was part of the team of “Cinq Colonnes à la une”, a fabulous reportage broadcast on French public television.
He also started producing historical sagas on wars, (Les Grandes Batailles), deserts, holy places, etc… Besides his documentaries, he wrote “Les Alsaciens ou les deux Mathilde”, a series on French families in Alsace who changed citizenships three times during the three wars. It is one of the most poignant historical fictions I have ever seen.
In 2007, Jean Lebrun, asked me to do a series of interviews with him for France Culture, “A voix nue”, and I found that interviewing this superior journalist was tantalizing. He spoke brilliantly about his experiences abroad and never had a moment of self satisfaction. He took it all as an amazing adventure and loved life, ladies and danger.
His last act of courage was to take his lovely daughter Anne to the altar, on a beautiful sunny July day, six weeks before leaving us. He was delighted. “When she was born, I never thought I would still be alive for her wedding, it’s wonderful to be here!” He had met her mother, his third wife Gilberte while she was working in television. His sister, his son Louis and many grand children also survive him.
Forever an optimist, Henri de Turenne, a Marquis, was, like Louis XIV’s famous Maréchal, an adventurous and very brave man!
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