Born on July 5, 1911, in Monboudif, Cantal, France, Georges Pompidou worked as a teacher before and during World War II. After the war, he became a trusted adviser for General Charles de Gaulle, serving as his prime minister from 1962 to 1968. Pompidou was elected president of France in 1969. He was still in office when he died on April 2, 1974, in Paris, at age 62.
Georges Jean Raymond Pompidou was born in Monboudif, Cantal, France, on July 5, 1911. He followed the same career path as his parents and became a teacher. In 1939, he was called to fight in World War II, serving in a regiment that won the Croix de Guerre. After France's surrender and occupation, Pompidou returned to teaching.
After the War
After France's liberation, Pompidou met General Charles de Gaulle in 1944, and was selected to be his adviser on economics and education. Though he had not actively participated in the French resistance during the war, Pompidou became a trusted adviser for de Gaulle.
After de Gaulle resigned as head of France's provisional government in 1946, Pompidou continued working in de Gaulle's shadow cabinet. Pompidou also took a post with the commissioner for tourism and then at the Conseil d'Etat. In 1955, he left de Gaulle and public service to join the Rothschild bank.
When Charles de Gaulle returned to power in 1958, Pompidou took a six-month leave of absence from his bank to become de Gaulle's chief personal assistant. Pompidou also worked on the constitution for France's new Fifth Republic. After resuming his work at the Rothschild bank—he became the institution's general director in 1959—Pompidou once again stepped away from finance to help negotiate an end to the Algerian War of Independence. He then agreed to serve as de Gaulle's prime minister in 1962.
Although not used to being in the public eye, Pompidou was an adept prime minister, handling administrative tasks with ease. His reputation reached its height when he was instrumental in resolving the worker and student uprisings that took place throughout France in May 1968. Pompidou oversaw negotiations between workers and employers, which led to the Grenelle agreements that ended the strikes. In spite of this accomplishment, or perhaps because de Gaulle was wary of having a successful figure close at hand, Pompidou was replaced as prime minister in July 1968.
Pompidou did not give up on politics after his departure from de Gaulle's government. When de Gaulle resigned from the presidency in 1969, Pompidou announced his own candidacy. De Gaulle had been a strong leader in France since World War II, and had been the driving force behind the creation of the Fifth Republic. Pompidou's clear victory in the presidential elections, with 58% of the vote in the second round, demonstrated that the Fifth Republic could continue without de Gaulle.
During his presidency, Pompidou hewed to the Gaullist principle of France maintaining its presence on the world stage, though he did not blindly follow de Gaulle's every move. Wanting to balance the growing influence of West Germany in Europe, Pompidou allowed Great Britain entry into the European Economic Community, a step de Gaulle had opposed. Pompidou also instituted reforms to modernize France's economy. His presidency saw a period of strong economic growth for the country.
Death and Legacy
While in office, Pompidou learned he was suffering from multiple myeloma, a bone marrow cancer. Pompidou did not resign from the presidency and the diagnosis was not made public, with his office and his doctors proffering excuses as to why he looked unwell. Given the secrecy, the 62-year-old Pompidou's death on April 2, 1974, in Paris, France, came as a surprise.
Pompidou left behind a legacy of able governance and public service. Most importantly, his ability to step into the vacated presidency after de Gaulle was a positive step for France, as it demonstrated that the Fifth Republic's strong presidential role could be filled by others.
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