Skip to main content

Pompidou, Georges

Published on December 2, 2007
Georges Pompidou was born on July 5, 1911 in Montboudif, a little town in the Cantal Department, to a family of teachers descended from peasant stock.

After completing his secondary studies in the Albi lycée winning a "baccalauréat" in Latin, Greek and Philosophy and first prize in Greek translation in the nationwide Concours Général, he spent time first in Toulouse and then in Paris preparing for the entrance examination to the Ecole Normale Supérieure. He was admitted in 1931.

As a student in the provinces Georges Pompidou had spent most of his time reading or playing tennis and rugby. In Paris, he was interested in literature, the theater, painting and all forms of ideas and expression; he dabbled in politics without plunging into it and made many devoted friends. In 1934 he placed first in the "agrégation" exam in literature and earned his diploma from the Ecole Libre des Sciences Politiques.

After completing his military service as a reserve officer first in Saint-Maixent, then in Clermont-Ferrand, he was named a professor in Marseilles, where he stayed three years. It was at that time, during a short stay in Paris, that he met Claude Cahour, a young first-year student at the Faculty of Law. They were married in Château-Gontier, a town in the Mayenne Department where her father was a doctor.

Named to a teaching position in Paris right before the war, Georges Pompidou was recalled to the 141st Alpine Infantry Regiment which was to spend the winter of 1939-1940 in front of the Maginot Line in Lorraine and then Alsace. Assigned to leave for Norway, his unit was instead sent to the Somme Department when the Germans attacked on May 10. They fought without interruption until the June 1940 Armistice. Demobilized in August, he resumed his teaching position in the Henri IV lycée. Through his contacts with Resistance groups he was named head of the liason service with the Commissioners of the Republic. By the end of September 1944 he was chargé de mission on the staff of General de Gaulle.

In January 1946, after General de Gaulle left office, Georges Pompidou was named "maître des requêtes" at the Council of State. There he acquired legal training and a knowledge of the ins and outs of the administration, all the while continuing to lecture at the Institut des Sciences Politiques, a job he did not give up until 1959.

Meanwhile, General de Gaulle had created the Rally of the French People (RPF), and from 1945 to 1953 constantly called on Georges Pompidou. In fact, up until the time the General temporarily left the political scene, Georges Pompidou was his closest aide.

Since his loyalty to General de Gaulle made it difficult for him to pursue an administrative career, Georges Pompidou resigned and accepted a position with the Rothschild group. His duties at the bank successively led him to have a hand in the creation or development of various companies and, increasingly, to become the direct collaborator of the partners. He eventually assumed the role, though not the title, of director general.

However, he remained in personal contact with General de Gaulle, whom he visited regularly on the rue de Solférino and sometimes in Colombey. And when events in Algeria shook the Fourth Republic in 1958, the General warned him: "I am counting on you." Indeed, when all the parties with the exception of the Communist party called on de Gaulle to save France and the Republic, Georges Pompidou agreed to direct the General’s staff. In this capacity he took part in the formation of the government, then, for several months, at the Hôtel Matignon, resumed his work as de Gaulle’s close aide.

Though little known to the public, he nonetheless played a role in the government’s action, particularly in the preparation of the Constitution and the financial recovery plan. In January 1959, when General de Gaulle drove from the Place de l’Etoile to the Elysée, Georges Pompidou was at his side.

But political life still did not attract him. He refused to join the government, agreeing only to be a member of the Constitutional Council, and returned to the bank where he officially became director general.

However, de Gaulle called on him in 1961 to make contact in Switzerland with the representatives of the National Liberation Front, contacts which led to the Evian conference. In 1962, he was summoned to the Elysée to be told: "One phase of my action is over. I must have a new Premier. I am going to call on you and you have no right to refuse." So he broke off all ties with private activity and made his public debut as Premier. After that his life was inseparable from political activity, even though he saved a few moments to himself for poetry, painting and his friends, old and new, and a few private places of retreat which helped him maintain a certain opening onto the world and an emotional and intellectual balance which he sometimes needed in the troubled hours of governmental life.

Elected municipal councilor of Cajarc, where he bought and modernized a small farm, he was elected Deputy for Cantal in 1967. In July 1968, he left the post of Premier. In June 1969, Georges Pompidou was elected President of the French Republic by universal suffrage.

His training and inclination led him, on the domestic front, to take an equal interest in industrial development and in social and cultural improvement in France. On the foreign scene these same factors led him to encourage a policy of détente and rapprochement which caused him to undertake numerous trips both in Europe and to the U.S.S.R., to the United-States and to French-speaking Africa.

Georges Pompidou died while still in office on April 2, 1974 at his home in Paris.

      top of the page