A few weeks after I arrived in Frankfurt in the fall of 1986 to become Automotive News' Europe reporter, the city of Paris was rocked by an act of terrorism. On Nov. 17, radical leftists shot and killed Renault President Georges Besse outside his home in the 14th arrondissement.
There had been a wave of terrorism in Europe, much like today. Just a week before the assassination, a bomb set off by the same group that killed Besse shattered windows at Peugeot's headquarters in Paris. The year before, the personnel head of a Daimler-Benz subsidiary was murdered in Munich by another leftist group.
When Besse's death was reported, I immediately flew to Paris. Fortunately, I still had the short-term visa that travelers to France had suddenly been required to obtain as a consequence of the terrorist threat. I'd needed it to attend the Paris auto show a few weeks earlier.
The mood at Renault's headquarters in Boulogne-Billancourt was somber.
Besse had been a reclusive CEO since joining the company in January 1985. But at the Paris show, he blossomed into a high-profile figure in newspapers and on French TV.
I remember the distraught Renault PR leadership telling me that Besse's new notoriety may have attracted the attention of terrorists.
"He was the star of the last auto show, and maybe that is what killed him," one Renault man told me.
The death of one industrial leader can't be compared to the horror in Paris this month. But the killing of Renault's chief carried much symbolism, and it cast a great sadness over the city -- a haunting memory that came back to me.
Besse had largely shunned the imperial trappings of his office. He would drive a Superfive compact to work. He was never comfortable with personal protection even as his staff repeatedly asked him to take more precautions.
A Renault employee who lived near Besse in the Montparnasse district said he frequently saw the boss walking home by himself in the evening and would spot Besse shopping at open-air markets on Saturday mornings.
He was typically and wonderfully French. His assassination was an attack not just on a man, but on a way of life. A way of life, by the way, that the terrorists will never be able to change.
That's the other thing that sprang to mind -- the great courage of Parisians in times such as these.