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The many friends and admirers the world over who greatly respected Gerald van der Kemp for the great man he was and who loved him dearly for his humanity and kindness are mourning him today. Gerald died on Dec. 28 at the American Hospital in...

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The many friends and admirers the world over who greatly respected Gerald van der Kemp for the great man he was and who loved him dearly for his humanity and kindness are mourning him today. Gerald died on Dec. 28 at the American Hospital in Paris at the age of 89. Even though he had been in and out of hospitals for many years, his health precarious, his American-born wife, Florence, always at his side, the unexpected news is still heart-rending.

Gerald van der Kemp was buried in the small cemetery in Giverny next to the great artist Claude Monet, whose home Giverny was and where Gerald was the curator for many years. On Jan. 28, one month from his death, there will be a Requiem Mass said for him in the Chapelle Royale at Versailles. It will be by invitation only.

Van der Kemp was a giant in size, in intellect, in courage, in personality and in dazzling charm. He was always the quintessence of elegance, gallantry and grace -- boutonniere in lapel. As France's conservateur en chef during World War II, he saved many treasures of the Louvre, including the "Mona Lisa," from being burned by the Nazis. Honors were heaped on him. He was a member of the Institut de France, a commander of the Legion of Honor, a commander of Arts and Letters, a grand officer of the Sovereign Order of Malta and many others.

Speaking at his funeral, his beloved stepdaughter, Barbara de Portago, remembered the loving marriage of her mother and Gerald. Their energy, she said, was devoted toward what her mother felt coursed through Gerald's veins: the love and history of la belle France. His distinguished service to the country throughout his long curatorship at the Palace of Versailles -- during which many treasures and rooms, including the Grand Trianon, the Chambre du Roi, the Galerie des Glaces, the apartments of the Queen and the Petit Trianon were magnificently restored -- will always be remembered. He and Florence entertained brilliantly there, personally introducing many to the palace's glories. His remarkable influence as a cultural force majeur cannot be exaggerated, but how I remember him best, this dear friend, is as a darling, darling man.
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