A mere stone's throw from Place de la Concorde in the heart of Paris, picture galleries, pieces of bespoke furniture and an elaborate carpet tell the story of a remarkable man: French diplomat Francois de Rose, the only surviving founding father of CERN. A perfect gentleman and host, the monsieur welcomes me into his sophisticated home just a few days after his 102nd birthday to glimpse back in time over a homemade lunch. I feel honoured and immediately humbled by his warmth and modesty.
"I don't think my life is so incredible," he starts thoughtfully. "My father was killed in the First World War and my two sisters, my brother and I were raised in Fontainebleau [metropolitan area of Paris] by our mother and grandfather. Growing up, I didn't know what career I should take. I would have probably become an aviator like my father, but I was blind in one eye from a football injury. And so, I decided that I would become a diplomat."
Realising his ambition, de Rose was appointed to London in 1937. "This was most interesting, because the English monarchy was in its full glory and life was extremely sophisticated," he remembers. "London was the place to be and my young wife and I thoroughly enjoyed our time there." Yet, things were about to change and a blissful era came to an abrupt end with the onset of "the disaster" that was the Second World War. The young diplomat spent the following years partly serving as a liaison officer in the British forces in North Africa and Europe.
Advocating for peace
Returning to the diplomatic service after peace had been restored, de Rose "had the great luck" of being appointed to the French delegation to the United Nations, which had been founded in 1945 to act as a platform for dialogue and prevent future wars between nations. It was there that he began to focus on atomic energy issues, representing France on the newly established United Nations' International Atomic Energy Commission. The Commission, which was composed of scientists and diplomats, had been "entrusted with the mission of making proposals for the international control of the development of atomic energy." "I felt immediately very much in sympathy with the scientists I met--Niels Bohr, Pierre Auger, Francis Perrin, Eduardo Amaldi amongst others--and struck up a close friendship with Robert Oppenheimer [often referred to as the father of the atomic bomb]."
"Oppenheimer was a fascinating personality," the diplomat says thoughtfully...