Danielle Mitterrand, the widow of former French President Francois Mitterrand, died on Tuesday morning at the age of 87, at Georges Pompidou Hospital in Paris. Her funeral takes place today in her hometown of Cluny.
The former First Lady of France was taken to hospital last Friday, suffering from fatigue and respiratory difficulties. She was placed in an induced coma on Sunday and died in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
The announcement of her death was met with emotion by politicians, with Nicolas Sarkozy publicly announcing the death, and Socialist leader Francois Hollande making a moving tribute. However, ordinary Parisians have also been moved by the loss of this extraordinary lady, and many have since paid their respects at Mitterrand’s city mansion at 22 rue de Bievre in the 5th arrondissment, where she lived for forty years with her husband.
Journalists, mourners, and ordinary members of the public alike stood outside Madame Mitterrand’s green front door in the days following her death, some placing flowers, and some discreetly slipping cards into her letter-box.
Yesterday, hundreds of people gathered on the Pont des Arts in Paris in her honour, including many left-wing politicians such as Jack Lang and Jean-Luc Melanchon. They released hundreds of red balloons into the sky for her.
Madame Mitterrand was an exemplary, inspiring woman. She joined the French Resistance as a teenager, and went on to be a militant campaigner for human rights, famously supporting Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution.
She shattered the traditional mould of First Lady by refusing to be a mere hostess at the Presidential palace or decorative adornment standing quietly beside the head of State. She loudly voiced her strong views, which often veered far left even of her Socialist husband’s policies. A friend of the Dalai Lama, she supported a free Tibet and fought for other minority groups such as the Kurds.
She famously accepted her husband’s infidelity, causing a great stir by standing beside his mistress and embracing his illegitimate daughter, Mazarine, at his funeral. She remained loyal to him for the rest of her life.
She founded the association ‘France-libertes’, which continues to fight for important causes, one of its main focuses being a campaign to bring safe drinking water to everyone on the planet.