Living in the Present, Learning from the Past: Catherine Pégard

By: Katie Petersen

Catherine Pégard considers herself lucky because, she says, “this is my third life.”

Standing in a conference room minutes away from the gold-plated iron gates of Versailles, Pégard explains that she has lived and said goodbye to two lives already: those of a journalist and political advisor. She is now the President of Château de Versailles, responsible for everything about the more than 300-year-old palace. But she hasn’t truly said goodbye to who she’s been.

As she says, “You are not the man you are at the moment. You are the man you were before.”

She was a political reporter from 1977 to 2007 and spent much of that time as journalist-editor at the major French magazine Le Point. Later, she served as advisor to President Nicolas Sarkozy, who appointed her to the presidency of Versailles in 2011.

When she left journalism in 2007 to be Sarkozy’s advisor, she says, “I knew that it was probably forever, even though I loved that job.”

And she was careful to not blur lines with old colleagues by sharing about her new job. As Elaine Sciolino, former Paris bureau chief for the New York Times, says: “She was correct, and very strict, and once she went to work with the government she was loyal to the government.”

However, Pégard also qualifies her status: “If you are a journalist, you stay a journalist.” Although she left her press pass behind, she brought the lessons from journalism with her. One was learned through interviewing, and found to be equally important in representing the public: “You can’t just work alone in your office,” she says. “If you want to know something, you must go talk to the people.”

Another was objectivity. “Anytime he [Sarkozy] asked me anything,” Pégard says, “I told him what I believed, and that’s it.” In fact, she believes that Sarkozy picked her as an advisor because he thought “I would be free to say what I want with him.”

She also found that in politics, as in reporting, accuracy is important. “You must be as close as you can to the truth.”

When Sarkozy appointed her as President to Versailles in 2011, she was surprised “because I was not supposed to come here.” But as it turned out, her previous lives had been preparing her all along.

“What you need to be a journalist, you need at Versailles,” she says. To Pégard, that includes the previous lessons as well as being “curious and inventive.”

 

It also requires solid narrative ability: “You must understand what the story is and you must tell the story.” She describes Versailles as “the history book of France,” quoting Victor Hugo, but says, “the story continues.”

 

Naturally, she hadn’t learned everything necessary to run a palace by the time she arrived at Versailles. She spoke about the chateau’s Twitter account, which her team started recently, and said, “we are very proud of that, especially me, because I learned to do that here. And now I tweet every day.”
She says about Versailles, “You must always think of what it was, but you must also think of what it is,” because if you don’t, “then it is a dead museum.”
Perhaps the same can be said of a human being. While Pégard may have lived multiple lives already, she’s still learning like the rest of us.

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