Mr. Chirac had a ferocious temper. At a French-British summit meeting in 1988, when Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sought a cut in French agricultural subsidies, her obstinacy prompted an obscene outburst from Mr. Chirac. Even French-speaking Britons in the room had to consult their dictionaries to determine just how gravely he had insulted her. The next day, the British tabloid The Sun demanded in a banner headline, “Say Sorry, Rude Frog!”
But it was an otherwise winning popular touch that endeared Mr. Chirac to the French. An article in the newspaper Libération, which was often critical of him, conceded, “Even those who do not like him can acknowledge that the president of the Republic is a warm, demonstrative man, quick to become involved in individual problems and to help those hit by trouble.”
Much of the work he did to help the handicapped, with foundations and facilities, went deliberately unpublicized. “He had this incredible capacity to be interested in other people,” Professor Perrineau said. “I saw him follow the dossier of people who were ill, and he never wanted them to know it.”
In 2000, Mr. Chirac wrote that “people more and more have the feeling that their governments are cut off from their daily lives.”
“That is why I travel as often as possible to all parts of France,” he added, “to listen to people about their worries, their hopes.”
Jacques René Chirac was born in the Latin Quarter of Paris on Nov. 29, 1932, a few years after his father, Abel, then a minor bank official, and his mother, Marie Louise Valette, had moved to the capital from a village in central France.
In Paris, as his father began to rise as a banker, Jacques, then an only child, was spoiled by his mother, whose first child had died in infancy eight years before Jacques’s birth. When he came home from school he would find a piece of candy she had left out for him, its wrapper already opened to save him the trouble. She would ask visitors to wear white shirts, believing they were less likely to carry germs into the house and imperil Jacques.
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