Monday, July 3, 2017

Jean-Jacques Odier was the Secretary for the French speaking world for the International Communications Forum from its inception in 1991. He partnered the President Bernard Margueritte on many expeditions to set up ICF conferences. In the first years 28 international conferences took place on five continents. His life and interests covered a wide range. A close media colleague, an Englishman, living in Switzerland, Andrew Stallybrass writes as a friend of many years.

Jean-Jacques OdierJean-Jacques Odier died on Monday 19 June, and his funeral was on Saturday 24th, his 90th birthday. He described himself as the black sheep of his Geneva banking family. After his studies at Geneva university, he chose to spend the rest of his life working without a salary for Moral Re-Armement, now Initiatives of Change. He befriended trades unionists and visited workers in industrial suburbs in France. He wrote plays, notably a prophetic comedy-musical called 'Pitié pour Clémentine' where the prime minister brings in a computer to run the state: human emotions and failings make such a mess. This was in 1967! His play on the life on pioneer French socialist Jean Jaurès received a prize from the Canton of Geneva, but sadly it has never been staged.

There were years of bridge-building work in France, the issues of living together across difference, dialogue with Muslims, building relationships with the police - issues that remain terribly valid today still.

With a small team of friends and colleagues, he founded the magazine 'Changer', of which he was the chief editor for many years, which pioneered an authentically latin and francophone expression of the ideas and experience of MRA. An incisive writer, and a sometimes demanding editor, he was a caring mentor to many younger men and women in the skills of writing, proofreading, design and print production. He was a committed member of the International Communications Forum that fights for media ethics and helped to produce their 'Sarajevo commitment'.

He leaves behind a raft of jazzy songs, amazing from someone who had no formal musical training, and who couldn't even read or write music. 'There are no small countries' was the title of his song for Switzerland, with its message that you're only as small as you think you are. He wrote a fascinating autobiographical memoir, and in retirement,  he further developed his artistic skills as a painter, and we are proud owners of two oil paintings bought at an exhibition in Ferney-Voltaire just across the border from Geneva where they lived before their final move to here. And looking back, we can see perhaps a loving hand here, as quickly, a cruel illness was diagnosed. This long struggle slowly deprived Jean-Jacques of everything except his curious and combative spirit, his sense of humour, his faith and his grace. He spoke at medical conferences, giving the patients' perspective. He continued to write articles, e-mails and letters, thank to an amazing voice-recognition programme that allowed him to dictate, with the help of foot-pedals, long after he'd lost the use of his fingers. He spoke at medical seminars, giving carers the much-needed patients' perspective.

He was never noted for his patience, particularly with computers. You always knew when the stupid machine had made a mistake. I remember visiting him in his room when he was struggling with a letter to a French political figure,  and blocs of text were appearing in red italics. I tried to help, sitting myself at the keyboard, and things got radically worse. It took us a few minutes to understand that the voice-recognition programme was trying desperately to keep up with our conversation and understand a new and unfamiliar voice! As often with Jean-Jacques, we had a good laugh at ourselves.

He bore his illness with immense courage and grace. He was cherished and accompanied by his two loving sons, their wives, and his grandchildren. And of course by his beloved Marie-Lise, who stayed in their old flat so close to the medicalised home where he moved. In his terrifyingly fast electric wheelchair, he could whizz round for visits.

On my last visit, just last week, he asked me about my father's death and what it had taught me. He noted the changes between his relationship with his parents, and the way his grandchildren now stroked his cheek. As I left, I said, 'Adieu', farewell, but also entrusting him to God, and then said, 'Until the next time we meet.' His last words to me were, 'If not before!'

At the funeral, on a blazing hot day, friends and family gathered for a final farewell. The 17th century Protestant church was one of the first custom-built after the Reformation, as an amphitheatre, focused on the pulpit. Marie-Lise was given strength through the day; one of the last to come into the church, she waved to her assembled friends. Both sons and the eldest grandson spoke, as did the current head of the family bank, who spoke directly to Jean-Jacques, 'You were elegant in your way of being. You were a good man. The uncle that one dreams of having.' The church was full of flowers, and a generous selection of his paintings.