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Lives Lived: Rodrigue Millette, 92

Father, diplomat, arts awards manager, expert cook. Born on Oct. 14, 1921, in Hull, Que.; died on Dec. 4, 2013, in Ottawa, of Alzheimer's disease, aged 92.

Rodrigue was eight years old when the Great Depression hit. The youngest of three boys, he had to be content with his brothers' hand-me-down clothes, skates and bicycles. Money was scarce and he worked as a delivery boy to help his family through difficult times.

At 19, Rodrigue enlisted in the Canadian Army as a combat soldier and gave six years of his life to the Second World War effort. He was commissioned in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany. On June 6, 1944, he was part of the Allied D-Day invasion in Juno Beach, France. Like many veterans, he rarely spoke of his wartime experiences.

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After the war ended, Rod remained in Europe another year before returning to Ottawa to build a professional life. A career in the Foreign Service seemed a natural move and, in 1948, he happily accepted his first posting, as an administrative assistant in the Canadian Embassy in Paris.

Rod was a self-taught man and an avid reader. When he wanted to buy his first car in Paris, he limited his outings for months to save enough to pay cash. At the time he was boarding with a local family and his room was the home's library. He made the best of his money-saving regimen and read all of the books. In a later posting to Venezuela, he was appointed consular officer, which gave him a wonderful opportunity to learn Spanish.

In Brussels, he worked under the direction of the cultural counsellor, René Garneau. He was one of the first advocates of Canadian artists going to European countries to develop their talents and gain international recognition. Mr. Garneau took Rod under his wing and together they worked persistently to promote the vitality of Canadian art and culture abroad. Their collaboration continued for another five years at the embassy in Paris, the artistic hub of Europe.

In 1967, the Canada Council for the Arts was looking for someone to head its grant-awards program to individual professional artists. Rod left the diplomatic corps and accepted the job at the council, where he administered the grants program for nine years. It was a perfect outlet for his interest in, and knowledge of, the arts.

During his initial posting in Paris, he met his first love, Anne-Marie, whom he married in 1951 and with whom he had a daughter, Caroline. They later divorced. In 1972, by then living in Ottawa, he met Colette Fortin-Millette. She was a member of the Foreign Service in the capacity of social secretary. When she was offered a posting to Abidjan, Ivory Coast, she accepted the assignment. A month after she took up her post, Rod went to visit and proposed. They were married in 1973 in Ottawa.

In 1976, Rod retired at the age of 55. He loved sports and had a passion for tennis, which he played until he was 80. He also was a photographer, a fine gourmet and an expert cook.

Until his health problems began in 2007, Rod and Colette shared many rich years together. They travelled extensively from 1976 through 1995, as he accompanied her on assignments to Paris, Bordeaux, Marseilles, Geneva and Singapore. For Rod, it was a wonderful second chance to explore the world, which he enjoyed to the fullest.

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Colette Fortin-Millette is Rod's wife.

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