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Colette Senghor, wife of Senegal’s poet-president, dies in France

Leopold and Colette Senghor, pictured in 1996 at ceremonies in the Norman town of Verson to mark his 90th birthday/AFP

RENNES, France, Nov 19 – Colette Senghor, the wife of Leopold Senghor, a poet and philosopher who became first president of post-colonial Senegal, has died in France at the age of 93.

She died at her home in Verson, in the western region of Normandy, at the family home, the local council said on Tuesday, expressing its “huge sadness” at her passing.

Senegalese President Macky Sall, in a tweet, paid tribute to Senghor, a “discreet woman and the wife in the background of the late President Leopold S. Senghor.”

Born in eastern France, Colette Senghor married Senghor in 1957, an era when mixed-race couples were extremely rare or taboo.

At that time, he was a Socialist lawmaker in colonial-era Senegal, who had sprung to international renown for his poetry and ground-breaking theories about “Negritude” – the black African experience.

In 1960, when Senegal gained independence from France, he became its first president and even drafted the national anthem.

He was a French-educated Roman Catholic at the head of predominantly Muslim nation and an intellectual in a country that was extremely poor and rural, yet he was hugely popular.

He was re-elected president in 1963 and stayed at the helm until 1980, when he became the first African to leave the post voluntarily.

He retired to France, eventually dying in 2001 at the age of 95.

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Colette Senghor was as well known for her elegance and discretion.

“(She) always looked over her husband and supported him in his political life and was the source of his inspiration in his artistic life,” the Verson town council said in its statement.

It said it had learned of her death on Monday.

Her husband paid tribute to her in an anthology of poems called “Lettres d’Hivernage” (Hibernation Letters), describing her as his “muse” and “gentle companion,” whom he had loved at first sight.

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