A product of France's elite schools, including ena, he was better linked in the public mind with his love of rural Corrèze, where his grandfathers came from: its paysans, its cattle, its cheeses. Compared with his brash successor, Nicolas Sarkozy, he seemed a model of understatement, one of the last French presidents who seemed to embody the nation.
By 2010 he was France's most admired political figure. His ineffectual latter years belied formidable willpower and political talent, which earned him the nickname, as Prime Minister Georges Pompidou’s troubleshooter in the 1960s, of "the bulldozer". He could charm, too. In 1968 he negotiated a truce with the leaders of protests that had taken France to the brink of chaos. Unlike previous generations of public figures, he was personally untouched by the controversies of the second world war.
Perhaps thanks to that, he lanced a historical boil. In a speech in 1995, just two months after taking office, he ended decades of blame-dodging by accepting that France—not just the Vichy regime— bore moral responsibility for the Nazi deportation of 76,000 Jews, most of whom perished. In remarks that seem unremarkable now, he said the "homeland of the Enlightenment...committed the irreparable". He left France with many burdens. But not that one.