THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JAMES A. BONDOUX

RENE BONDOUX: FAMILY MAN

Papa became a family man late in life: he was 31 years old when he fell for Virginia, a young woman of only 20 at the time. Up until then, it seems all of his energies had been focused on achievement: graduating from the prestigious cavalry officers' school at Saumur, gold medal at the Olympic Games, star of his law school class and clerking for the president of the Bar association. And now, in 1937, having launched his own law practice, he was ready to establish his own family.

He had met Virginia back in 1932, when in Los Angeles for the Games, but it was at a party in Paris where they became re-acquainted and the future was sealed. A whirlwind romance with a trip to Zermatt (or Gstaad, I am hazy on this detail), and in the summer of 1938 a wedding in Los Angeles. The newlyweds set up housekeeping in Paris, but the winds of war were blowing, and I was born just three weeks before Hitler's Panzers invaded Poland, the trigger for WWII.

1940 new father
New father in Cavalry Officer uniform and with swagger stick saying farewell before heading to the front at Dunkirk – 1940

His adventures during the war are summarized in a separate page, while mother returned to Los Angeles for the duration. So it wasn't until September 1945 that we three were reunited in Paris - he to re-launch his law practice, me to start school, and mother to manage a household in an unfamiliar language and amid postwar shortages.

The family expanded with the arrival of my sister Caroline when I was already eight years old, and then my sister Valerie showed up when I was twenty-four and already long gone from the family nest. Therefore, with some overlap, each of the three children lived mainly a one-child household experience.

Father was rigid in his beliefs about the imperatives of hard work, responsibility, and duty. Intent on achieving success in his practice, plus his commitments to his relationships in the law, sports, and military worlds consumed his hours. These multiple involvements created a bustling and overloaded lifestyle on which he thrived and through which he exercised his extraordinary stamina. He mentored law students, he was active in veteran associations (his beloved 2nd Dragoons and "Rhin et Danube" which is the First French Army Association, hunted with childhood friends, served as a judge at international fencing events, attended Rotary Club meetings. Also, one doesn't get elected "Batonnier" (President of the Bar) without campaigning, a years-long process of cultivating every member of the confraternity of lawyers.

Papi
Here with my grandfather who set high standards for his children.

I remember his workday starting around 8:30 in the morning, a break for lunch around 12:30, and he would spend the afternoon in courtrooms before returning home to meetings with clients until dinner time around 8:00 in the evening, when dinner would be on the table unless he and mother were heading out for a social engagement - at least three or four times a week, sometimes even more. He would go straight to his office when he came home and rarely made it to bed before 2am (at the time, most French professionals, doctors, lawyers, etc. practiced out of their homes). He would devote his Saturdays and Sundays to studying his briefs, composing his pleadings, and handling social correspondence. He would also catch up on his sleep, except during hunting season when he and mother would go shooting partridge and pheasant.

On the beach
He was always in "tenue de ville", literally "City Dress", even when a stroll on the beach was called for.

prankster
In this 1957 picture there is a hint of the prankster in his expression

I was therefore alone a lot, but never felt a deprivation, for two reasons - first, because I was a voracious reader and quite happy to entertain myself and had daily chats with my mother, and second because of our long vacations together.

The courts would recess for six or seven weeks every year, from early July through the end of August and coinciding with school vacation, and so father would gather us up and take us for an extended beach stay in the south of France. Having been raised in Southern California and never completely adapted to the inland continental climate, mother thirsted for the sunny seaside and that is where we spent our vacations, which turned into fun, high-quality family time and offered ample compensation for the deprivation of the school year.

With kids
Relaxing with the kids, but never without a necktie.

Driving lesson
A cold but exciting day – he is giving me driving lessons.

Vacations were quite indolent, with a routine of good meals, good books, good naps, plenty of beach time, lots of conversation and good humor, an occasional practical joke (he had been quite a prankster in his youth), and much commentary on current events while enjoying a sundown cocktail or an after-meal cup of coffee. These were times of good family conviviality. When the venue for the family summers shifted from the French Riviera to the island of Corsica, the same pattern held, and I believe that both my sisters, in turn, shared the same kind of family experience in that regard.

Summer
Another vacation snapshot.

Late in life father expressed regret at not having made more room in his schedule over the years for family time, but I believe that would have been totally in opposition and incongruous with his personality. His deeply-held values as to the bedrock importance of work, of self-respect, and of duty meant that the day was never done. I certainly accepted and enjoyed the structure of our family life as we lived it.

In his eighties
I believe this 1963 snapshot is the best picture I ever took of him.

Best Pic
In his eighties, Father remained an imposing presence