October 26, 2007

The death of Eve Curie Labouisse at age 102 brought back memories. She was Marie Curie’s daughter and the only one of her immediate family not to win a Nobel Prize. Her parents, Pierre and Marie Curie, won the Nobel in 1903 in the physics field, and then her mother won it on her own for chemistry in 1911. Her sister, Irene, won the Nobel in 1935, again for chemistry. Quite a family. I met Madame Labouisse in Athens during the late Fifties. Her husband, Henry Labouisse, was American ambassador to Greece, and on a given evening I was warned by my parents to shave, and to behave, because the Labouisses were coming to dinner. I paid little attention. Then my mother took me aside and told me that it was not just a dull dinner party for free-loading diplomats. “Madame Labouisse is the daughter of Marie Curie, so please, darling, try and behave.”

The moment they walked in I knew she was special. First and foremost, she had the remains of a great beauty, for which she’d been famous in Paris during the twenties. Once my mother presented me to her, I lightly kissed her hand and, being twenty, horny, and a show off, said to her: “I have been in love with your mother all of my life.” Silence for a second and then, “but you’re much too young to have known my mother…. but perhaps you mean it as a scientist.”

“No madame l’ambassadriss, I mean your Hollywood mother, Greer Garson.”

Fifty years later I remember it clearly. Mme Labouisse smiled, laughed and whispered to me,” your charm will take you far.” Well, they don’t give Nobels for charm, but if they did, she would have won one hands down. She wrote the definitive biography of her mother and lived a virtuous and impeccable life, which drew to a close this week. If only there were more ladies like her around nowadays.


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