François Duriaud, quintessential news agency journalist
Monday 8 July 2019
François was revered by all those who worked with him as a hard-working, selfless and generous man. His daughter Aline hailed him as a humble man. Indeed he never put himself forward but we all knew what he was worth.
As a professional he was the quintessential news agency journalist, rigorous, attentive to detail, intransigent on accuracy.
When we worked night shifts on the desk, we always found on the following shift a note listing all and every one of our shortcomings. He missed nothing, but always ended his note with “amitiés” which sweetened the reproach. We all feared his call, or text message "Please pop in" when we were summoned to his office over an imperfect story.
"Gosh" was his favourite comment when a story broke. His Gitanes were legendary, foul smelling for some, deliciously flavoured for others. Long after he gave them up, he would still ask those of us who still smoked for a Gauloise or a Gitane, without lighting it, just for the smell of it.
He worked on the French provincial daily Le Bien Public before joining Reuters and starting a foreign correspondent career in Kinshaha and Algiers. Then he returned to London to run the French Desk. I personally am forever grateful for hiring me, an unexperienced beginner, on the French Desk, then helping launch me on the circuit with a Havana assignment.
Then he was chief correspondent India, a return home for his wife Alak who was a renowned Indian theatre actress. He was quality editor in London, then Middle East editor. He used to recount his interview with King Fahd of Saudi Arabia which ended with a frown when he asked the monarch what had been his worst regret. “Regret” was apparently wrongly translated as “failure” - a question akin to lese-majesté.
As editor France he covered the Mitterrand presidency, working as always long hours, entertaining his staff in his flat overlooking the Luxembourg gardens.
After such a hard-working life, he had dreamt of retirement in a quiet French town. But family circumstances kept him in the family home in Blackheath when his son Laurent, who was about to finish university as an architect, fell ill. Aline left New York for London to join and comfort the family.
François had kept a flat in Paris for visits which were increasingly far apart as his health deteriorated. He had embarked on such a visit with Alak when he fell ill on the Eurostar and died before crossing the Channel a last time. ■