JACQUELINE Munro-Lafon was the oldest member of the French community in Scotland, an emblematic and much appreciated figure. On February 13, she died peacefully in Glasgow, in the presence of her son and daughter-in-law, fifteen days after her hundredth birthday.
Jacqueline Lafon was born in 1921, in Paris like four generations of her family before. His father was a wine merchant and the family lived in the Latin Quarter, that alluring fusion of bourgeois elegance, intellectual research and student buzz. After leaving school, she embarked on a journalism degree, her life apparently mapped out. World War II would change everything.
The Franco-British military defeat, following the German invasion of France in 1940, intimidated French parliamentarians into voting to liquidate the Republic, leaving de Gaulle in London to continue fighting for the honor of France and its freedoms . Jacqueline, the so-called journalist, could only mentally record the material misery and arbitrary terror of the Occupation that followed.
In those four interminable years, one of his worst memories was the breakdown of trust: the dangerous words really cost lives. Things got complicated in August 1944, when General Leclerc’s division of the Free French Army arrived near Paris, causing a week of urban warfare. The family home, poorly located near the German army headquarters at the Luxembourg Palace, was at the center of the storm, its windows shattered by shrapnel.
Immediately after the liberation of Paris, Jacqueline volunteered for the French army and was assigned to the British forces as a liaison officer. During the following months, in the devastated German cities and the liberated concentration camps, the young second lieutenant attends many scenes which she always hesitates to repeat.
The war also changed her life more happily, as in the military she met Major Hamish Munro. They get married in Paris and, with demobilization, go to live in England: three children follow. It was not until 1960 that they moved to Glasgow, where Hamish worked as a business consultant.
This is where they settle, because Jacqueline immediately falls in love with Scotland, and Glasgow in particular, where she immediately feels at home. She had a collection of illustrative stories.
She would remember, for example, taking the bus a little nervously a few weeks after arriving in town and asking the driver where to get off. Another passenger, disembarking at the same time, kindly offered to escort him to his destination. Arrived some distance away, Jacqueline asked her guide if her own house was nearby, to which the lady replied that she was returning to the bus stop, since she lived several kilometers away.
In England, Jacqueline had always felt that many, however polite they were, showed a certain coldness, as if they did not want to forgive the French for 1940. But now, suddenly, the selfless and modest gesture of a foreigner brought tears to her eyes. Long before the slogan became mainstream, Jacqueline learned that people make Glasgow.
Jacqueline was a loving daughter, sister, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. Her family was at the center of her life. That said, his warmth, liveliness and interest in others has earned him a large circle of friends far beyond.
His ability to listen and his constant desire to provide support have kept this friendship alive. In the public part of her constant activity, she immersed herself in the lives of her compatriots in Scotland. She was the librarian of the French Institute in Glasgow and a staunch supporter of the French Cultural Delegation, the Alliance Française and Franco-Scottish Society.
She volunteered without hesitation to help, whether that was running a polling station for the French elections, organizing Christmas presents for the children, or giving free of her time when help was needed. This sustained contribution to the invisible but real Auld Alliance between Scotland and France was recognized by the French government when Jacqueline became Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres.
Before her newly married daughter left for Britain in 1945, her father, himself a Great War Cross of War, solemnly reminded her that she was to be French Ambassador. This mission that she accomplished on a daily basis, with energy and charm.
It was fitting that on the occasion of the hundredth birthday of this modest ambassador, in a room filled with letters and cards, the Queen’s message of congratulations should be seated next to a bouquet of flowers sent by a Consul General attentive to Edinburgh, on behalf of a sad but grateful French community.
Jacqueline remained vibrant until the end. If proof were needed, one would only need to check out the exuberant presentation she gave at Strathclyde University, for over an hour, when she was almost 99 years old (https://www.youtube .com / watch? v = 93FOtLNVrLQ & t = 490s).
This joie de vivre is not the whole story. Jacqueline not only experienced painful episodes, such as life-threatening cancer requiring major surgery, shortly after losing her beloved husband.
There was also a sudden and overwhelming personal grief, with the loss of her daughter Fiona, her stepdaughter Geraldine and her granddaughter Alex’s husband, all at a young age. As with her traumatic war experiences, she never let this suffering take over, supported by a Christian faith dear to her.
To the world, she remained the always elegant and endearing Jacqueline, bright and cheerful, always ready to help and share, to chat and to laugh. Even in dark times, Jacqueline continued to radiate light and warmth around her. It is not only France and Scotland, but our common humanity that has lost a beloved ambassador.