Pierre Auguste Joseph Messmer
(b. Vincennes, 20 Mar. 1916, d. Paris, 29 Aug. 2007)
French; Prime Minister 1972–4 A Doctor of Law and graduate of the School of Oriental Languages in Paris, Messmer embarked on a career as a colonial civil servant in 1938 and was, at the outbreak of war, a colonial administrator. In 1940 he joined the Free French Forces and participated in African and European campaigns. In 1945 he was taken prisoner by the Vietminh in the Indochina campaign. In 1946 he became head of the Interministerial Committee on Indochina and from 1947 to 1948 Chief of Staff to the High Commissioner for Indochina. He then moved to Africa where he became Governor of Mauritania (1953) of the Ivory Coast (1954) and briefly a member of Gaston Defferre's office preparing an outline law on colonial autonomy. He was High Commissioner of Cameroon (1956–8), French Equatorial Africa (1958), and French West Africa (1958–9) and in 1960 he was made Minister for the Army at a time of turmoil over the war in Algeria. He applied de Gaulle's policy of professionalization of the army and the construction of nuclear forces. Loyal Gaullist, he left office when the General did in 1969 to set up the Gaullist Présence et Action du Gaullism as a way of keeping the General's ideals alive. In 1971 he was made Minister of State for Overseas France by President Pompidou. His combativity probably led Pompidou to nominate him as Prime Minister in 1972 when he replaced Chaban Delmas with an impeccable orthodoxy and pulled the right together for the battles with the left. President Pompidou's health deteriorated, the government drifted, and Messmer was criticized for not leading it. When Pompidou died in 1974, he considered standing for President but withdrew when Chaban Delmas did not withdraw his candidacy. He resigned as Prime Minister after the presidential elections had been held. He remained in the Assembly until 1988 and was elected a member of the French Academy in 1999.