Tributes to renowned man for all seasons’
Pierre Clement Rouja, a key player in the development of the Princess Hotels group and one of Bermuda’s first scuba divers, died last month at the age of 86 following a long illness.
Mr Rouja, who was ultimately decorated by the French Government with l’Ordre National du Mérite, came to Bermuda from Le Mas d’azil, Ariege in France, emigrating here in 1952 to work as a chef.
His wife, writer and historian Sandra Taylor Rouja recalled: “Pierre arrived in Bermuda in 1952 to work at La Caravel, [a now-closed] French restaurant on East Broadway.”
She explained that he was born into a hotel family and was destined to become a chef. At the age of 14 he was apprenticed in Prades in the Pyrenees, finishing at the Grand Hotel in Nice.
At 20, upon completion of his two years of military service in the paratroopers, he was solicited to join the French Secret Service; instead, he left France on the Reina del Pacifico.”
The restaurant in which he found himself overlooked the waters of Crow Lane, where, she explained, a young Teddy Tucker (the legendary diver and underwater explorer) moored his boat. “Pierre was the first person to see the famous Tucker Cross when Teddy stepped ashore that day in 1955.
“Soon, he had his own scuba equipment and was diving with Jean Archie, a Greek professional teaching from the Pompano Beach Club.”
Ms Rouja said it was at Pompano in 1956 that she met her husband-to-be. They got married in 1959.
“He was a chef at the Lantana for five years, studying business management through correspondence after work,” she said.
“It was through this endeavour and the help of Bodo von Alvensleben, then the owner of the Princess Hotel, that Pierre left the kitchen to join management in purchasing at the Hamilton property to become an integral and trusted member of the Princess Hotel team over the next 30 years.
“In 1965, he was involved with the plans, development and purchasing for all aspects of the Southampton Princess Hotel, its golf course and beach club.”
She explained the Princess Hotels were at this time owned by the billionaire shipping magnet and businessman Daniel Ludwig.
“He respected Pierre for his family background, his work ethic, honesty, and innate sense for seeking new products — to a point where he often gave him full range to follow his ideas in procurement. At such times, Pierre had only to answer to Daniel Ludwig.”
In their free time, the couple continued diving for wrecks, lobstering and fishing from The Curlew, a 1926 pilot boat they had bought and restored.
“By 1965 we were living at Pathways, an old house on the new Princess Hotel’s golf course. In 1966 and 1968 Pathways became the home and oasis for our sons, Jean-Pierre and Philippe. Pierre loved returning to the old house and garden after his day’s work, building aviaries, goldfish ponds, tree houses and forts for his sons.
“Animals were in abundance,” she recalled. “A salt water fish tank was stocked by the family on their snorkelling sorties.”
The family also regularly went to France, where they would stay at “L’Auberge Des Merles”, his mother’s family inn — and from where, in December 1973, he joined a test flight from Toulouse of the Concord at the invitation of a friend who was the pilot.
“By 1980 Pierre was regional bulk purchasing director for Princess Hotels International, frequently travelling to the resorts in Mexico, Bahamas and the US — his tennis racket always with him. His work also took him to Europe to look for French wine, food, Irish linens and crystal, Swiss cutlery, et cetera. He was responsible for introducing many European products to Bermuda that we now take for granted.”
In 1984 the French Government decorated him with l’Ordre National du Mérite for his contribution to expanding French products to Bermuda and the USA, and also for promoting French culture.
She said: “He was a founding member of l’Alliance Française in Bermuda, and assisted French nationals in distress, both on the Island and the sea.”
Ms Rouja said his associations with French sailors often resulted in friendships such as with the famous Cousteau family, and the divers who worked with them, such as Albert Falco, known in France for his championing of underwater conservation, and Bernard Delemotte.
“At age 65 he reluctantly retired. We spent the next 15 years between Bermuda and his village in France. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and diabetes 10 years ago, and for the last five years we have lived in Bermuda, near our sons and their families.”
Ms Rouja explained the village in which he was born was situated in the foothills of the French Pyrenees, and between the Great War of 1914-1918, Second World War, and the Spanish Civil War “Pierre’s childhood was overshadowed by stories and the realities of oppression, exile, and occupation.
“During the World War his parents hid Jewish children in their home until it was safe to guide them over the mountains, and out of France. This, plus his family heritage of French Huguenots formed in him a strong sense of justice for the oppressed and underdog, a characteristic that was evident throughout his life. Pierre was truly a man for all seasons.”
• A gathering of friends and family to celebrate Pierre’s life will take place on Thursday, June 18 at Christ Church Warwick Hall from 5pm to 7pm.
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