Habay-la-Neuve and Simon-Pierre Nothomb

To Habay-la-Neuve, near the Luxembourg frontier, this morning for the funeral mass of Simon-Pierre Nothomb who, in a long and rich international career, served as Secretary General of the European Economic and Social Committee from 1992 until he retired in 1998. Simon-Pierre was the scion of a notable political and cultural dynasty (which has produced several ministers, a Prime Minister, several novelists and a poet) and Habay-la-Neuve was, and still is, the family seat. During the war Simon-Pierre sang in the self-same church as a choirboy. From the many tributes I learned that he was a man of passions – Korea, Palestine (he served as an observer), Louvain (did he, I wonder, get the idea for ‘Louvain-la-Neuve’ from ‘Habay-la-Neuve’?), Europe, la francophonie, European university networks, Coimbra; his family; that he often forgot birthdays but just as often gave unexpected presents; that he liked to surprise and flourished on creative conflict. But for me the most impressive temoignage came from a tall, erect, dapper, silver-haired, patrician gentleman. I didn’t catch his name but he and Simon-Pierre had been friends for sixty years and had served together as eighteen year-old volunteers in the Korean war. He described scrabbling about in the mud of the trenches in the rainy season, the stink of rotting corpses on a hill that had repeatedly changed hands between the Americans and the Chinese, and the proximity of the Chinese lines. And he recounted how the two of them had made their way out to a listening post in No Man’s Land to rescue an injured comrade. ‘To be afraid together creates enduring bonds,’ said the man. ‘Simon-Pierre never abandoned his friends.’ The very next speaker was the man they had risked their lives to rescue. The church was packed with relatives and friends and the following quotation, from Korean poet Ji Yong Jeong, was on the funeral card: ‘Je suis revenu au village natal./Seul le ciel de ma nostalgie est bleu.’


  1. Cecilia

    Beautiful account of a ceremony that gave the full perspective of a great life, which was the one of Simon-Pierre. I had the privilege of working with him (Coimbra Group of Universities), of sharing his ideas and visions, his conflicts… and, you as can imagine, also of getting into disagreements with this amazing personage. I was also there today (left earlier than expected). Thank you, Mr Westlake, for sharing this experience in your blog.

  2. Tanguy Verraes

    The friend who counted the ‘anecdote’ of the Korean War was le Comte Michel Didisheim, ex-President of Fondation Roi Baudouin amongst many other high-level positions.

  3. Martin

    Thank you! A most distinguished gentleman, indeed.

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