Micheline Giroux, a greatly respected tutor of French history and culture at U3A Stonnington since 1993, passed away on 27 February 2017.
At the funeral service on 7 March at St Mary's Catholic Church, Dandenong Road, East St Kilda, Christina Olszewski, the daughter of Micheline's niece Elizabeth, delivered the eulogy. We join in farewelling Micheline.
Micheline Henriette Giroux was born on the 2nd August 1928 in Orléans, France. Her father Lazare Louis Giroux was a commanding officer in the French Army from Saint Laurent d'Andenay. Micheline’s father was a widower with two boys George and Henri before he married her mother Berthe née Rolland - a Primary School teacher. Micheline’s childhood was a happy one, as she was doted upon by her parents and her brothers.
With the arrival of WW2, France was in turmoil. As a teenager Micheline lived in fear. At the age of 17, the 3 most important men in her life died. Her father died of stomach cancer. Georges her brother died mysteriously in a car accident. Henri, her younger brother, who fought with the Resistance, was killed in a concentration camp. It was a tragedy of which she often spoke.
She finished her secondary school and studied English and French History at University. Micheline was competent, passionate and highly intelligent. At 25 she took up a position as a secondary school teacher in Yorkshire, England. She really enjoyed her time there and was very fond of the English countryside.
After her contract ended, Micheline went to Paris, where she completed her Masters Degree. At 32 she was invited by Melbourne University to take up a position as a senior lecturer in the French Department, teaching French and French History. She was a single woman in the early 1960s travelling to a foreign country, in a time where women were not taken seriously. This was a formidable feat, one which we admire in retrospect.
Micheline was very popular with her colleagues and students at the University of Melbourne. Here she joined the French Theatre. Drama was one of her passions and she was an excellent actress. Off the stage she took her acting skills to her classes and brought history to life, an aspect of her teaching which her students appreciated. Micheline’s acting influenced many students and her teaching was instrumental in cultivating their interest and passion. Micheline was a disciplinarian, and she would single you out with her stare, yet she bore no grudges and was always welcoming to students who needed her assistance.
She had a wicked sense of humour that would make most ladies and gentlemen of the day blush. In moments of impetuousness, she would lose her cool, for example: she once threw an ashtray at a truant student. Fortunately, he had good reflexes and ducked. Today he is a prominent solicitor and barrister, a high achiever - like many of her other graduate students who have successful careers.
In 1989 Micheline retired from the University of Melbourne. Patricia Clancy, an old colleague described Micheline as a bright spark in every gathering, energetic with strong opinions. She was ahead of her time, colourful, elegant and particularly memorable – she had a small figure, striking dark hair and eyes which were more Spanish than French – with a hot-blooded temperament to match.
Her passion for history covered various time periods – Ancient Egypt, Medieval, and the Ancient World alongside her enthusiasm for French History. She expressed her passion for it all throughout her life.
Micheline lived well and wholesomely. At home she loved to cook French food from her 19th century cook book and she and her flatmate Eva had many fun dinner parties. Later in life she would lunch twice a week at Chez Bob with the owner, Jean-Paul, and enjoy his company and food which were highlights of her week.
In addition, she loved cats and animals, a fact which would become obvious upon stepping into her home. She was equipped with what we call in French a bel esprit, a quick and admirable wit. She made many people laugh with her jokes and comical remarks, no matter what time of day.
When she retired, she did volunteering and in 1995 she commenced teaching French History at the U3A in Stonnington, where many of her students enjoyed their lessons thoroughly and appreciated her lively presence. In 2011 Micheline moved to the Regis Aged Care facility where she made many friends, including Nan Hopkins who became her best friend. They were inseparable, like sisters, and met often for lunches, dinners and afternoon sessions of Opera or Old Movies in Nan’s room. She loved Nan very much.
The following are some parting words from my mother Elizabeth, who supported and cared for Micheline for almost three decades: On her behalf I would like to read this poem by Adele Basheer to farewell Micheline:
We will always be connected,
Although we were born at different times in different worlds
Your story is part of my story
your History is a piece of my history
your love is written upon my heart
it’s what makes our lives forever entwined
Au revoir, Chère Micheline