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Australia’s best friend in France dies from coronavirus

Federal Veteran’s Affairs Minister Darren Chester said Australia had lost a “true friend”.

Chester said Simon oversaw the renovation of the Franco-Australian First World War museum in Villers-Bretonneux, was a strong supporter and voice in the establishment of Australia’s Sir John Monash Centre, and always extended a “warm and hospitable welcome” to Australian visitors.

The Australian National Memorial and newly opened Sir John Monash Centre sit just outside Villers-Bretonneux.

The Australian National Memorial and newly opened Sir John Monash Centre sit just outside Villers-Bretonneux. Credit:

“Dr Simon will be greatly missed by all Australians who met and worked with him,” he said.

Simon had presided over Anzac Day services in Villers-Bretonneux for the 12 years he had been mayor, and coordinated a fundraiser for victims of the Australian bushfire catastrophe just weeks before falling ill.

By late February he had organised for some $37,000 to be collected from the school children and residents of Villers-Bretonneux.

At least 27,000 people have died in France since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Australia’s ambassador to France, Brendan Berne, said flags at the embassy in central Paris would fly at half-mast on Thursday in Simon’s honour.

“Patrick opened his town to Australians at all times but especially on Anzac Day,” he said. “I’ve seen many Aussies deeply touched by the warmth of his welcome.

“Patrick embodied the French ‘duty to remember’ when it came to the Anzacs and their legacy. He was part of our embassy family and we will be there for his wife and community.

In a statement, Simon’s family said their “hero” had fought the virus for seven weeks.

“The fight was uneven because this disease is vicious, unpredictable and little known,” they said.

“We accompanied and surrounded him until he left to watch over us from a more peaceful place, transmitting to him all the love he gave us.”

With Rob Harris

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