Claude, Widow of France's Pompidou, Dies

The Associated Press
Tuesday, July 3, 2007; 2:14 PM

PARIS -- Claude Pompidou, the publicity-shy widow of President Georges Pompidou who famously called the presidential palace "a house of sadness," died Tuesday in Paris, her foundation said. She was 94.

The Claude Pompidou Foundation gave no cause of death. Georges Pompidou died in office on April 2, 1974.

Passionate about modern art _ particularly the work of French artist Yves Klein _ Claude Pompidou was instrumental in the creation of a modern art museum that bears her husband's name. Opened in 1977, the audacious, tube-covered Pompidou Center is one of Paris' most popular museums.

She told Le Figaro that she went there often, "when I am in a bad mood, or a little sad. You feel better when you emerge having seen some paintings. It is the salvation side of art."

Prime Minister Francois Fillon noted Claude Pompidou's passion for abstract art.

"Artists know with what enthusiasm she supported them," he said in a statement.

She was also committed to philanthropy. Her foundation, set up in 1970, helps handicapped children, the elderly and hospital patients.

France's new president, Nicolas Sarkozy, said Claude Pompidou had suffered as first lady "because she did not always appreciate the very cruel side of political life."

Timid and reserved, she had difficulty adjusting to life in the limelight. She once called the presidential Elysee Palace "a house of sadness" but in a 2004 interview with Le Figaro daily, she said her years in the Elysee were hard, but that she never regretted her husband's decision to go into politics.

"I cannot say that the weight of political life was pleasurable for me," she said. "But it was destiny, absolute destiny."

"I was very proud that the French people elected my husband, but still I was very anguished about the idea of what kind of life I would have to lead" as first lady, she told Le Figaro.

Among her most memorable moments as first lady: an official dinner "during which a foreign minister put his hand on my knee and asked for my phone number, telling me that he was called George like my husband and that that way I wouldn't get their names wrong!" she recalled.

She was born as Claude Cahour, the child of a doctor, on Nov. 13, 1912, in Chateau-Gontier, a town in the west-central Mayenne region.

She met her future husband in Paris, when she was a first-year law student. The couple married in her hometown in 1935.

In a message on the foundation's Web site, she had cited philosopher Rene Descartes: "To be of no use to anyone is to be good for nothing."

Claude Pompidou is survived by a son, Alain, a professor. Her funeral will be held Friday in Paris, her foundation said.

© 2007 The Associated Press