Prominent voices silenced in 2010

Hayek always liked to have a number of timepieces on his wrists Keystone

The year 2010 will be remembered by many Swiss for the number of leading personalities who passed away, leaving behind a flood of memories.

This content was published on December 29, 2010 - 08:57
Robert Brookes, and agencies

They all had their own particular talents that were recognised both in and outside Switzerland.

The uncrowned king of Swiss watchmaking, Nicolas G. Hayek, died in June of heart failure at his Swatch Group headquarters in Biel.

Feted by many a university for his entrepreneurial skills and his tireless efforts for Swiss industry, Hayek, aged 82, was small in stature but a great visionary. He preached that people should always keep the imagination they had as a six-year-old child to keep creativity alive.

Widely regarded as having saved the Swiss watch industry, he turned his companies, including Breguet, Blancpain, Omega, Longines, Swatch and a host of other brand names, into the largest watchmaking concern in the world.

More than 1,000 people turned up to pay tribute to him at a public memorial in Bern. The 2010 Swiss president, Doris Leuthard, praised him as an ambassador for Switzerland and a source of inspiration for politicians.

Other speakers who paid tribute included Swiss astronaut Claude Nicollier and the president of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge. Also in attendance was Hollywood actor George Clooney.

Bishop’s funeral

Crowds gathered in Fribourg in September for the funeral of the Catholic bishop of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg, Bernard Genoud, who died of lung cancer at the age of 68.

Genoud was ordained a bishop in 1999 and served on the presidium of the Swiss Bishops Conference from 2007.

He was considered close to the people and publicly asked for forgiveness from victims of paedophile priests at the beginning of 2008 amid the deepening sex scandal in the Catholic Church.

“I would like to stress our obligation to ask for pardon from the victims, pardon for the lack of transparency, clarity, communication, and indeed of courage which unfortunately led to these offences.”

He added that he did not exactly know how to ask forgiveness for the "unfair suffering" of the victims.

Steve Lee

In October, the singer of the Gotthard rock band, Steve Lee, died aged 47 in what was described by a policeman as a “freak” motorcycle accident outside the United States city of Las Vegas.

Lee, who had a British father and Swiss mother, co-founded the band in 1990. It became one of the most successful Swiss acts ever, with the last 11 albums all reaching number one in the Swiss album charts.

The musician was with a group of friends who had pulled off a motorway to change into wet-weather gear when a truck swerved, sending its trailer careering into a parked Harley-Davidson which then hit Lee.

Another voice that disappeared in October was that of soprano Joan Sutherland, who died at her home near Geneva, aged 83.

Her purity of tone and brilliant vocal display made her one of the most celebrated opera singers of the 20th century.

Acclaimed from her native Australia to North American  and Europe for the wide range of roles she took on during a career that spanned four decades, she was called “La Stupenda” by her Italian fans.

Pioneer in politics

Another Geneva personality, Lise Girardin, passed away in 2010, aged 89. A pioneer in politics, she was the first woman to sit in the Swiss Senate, after women were given the right to vote at the national level in 1971.

That same year Girardin also became a board member of what was then the Union Bank of Switzerland, now UBS.

In February, art museum founder Ernst Beyeler, who was the driving force behind the internationally renowned Swiss art museum the Beyeler Foundation, died aged 88.

Beyeler and his wife Hildy opened their museum in Riehen near Basel in 1997. About 200 works of classical modernism reflect their views on 20th century art and highlight works typical of the period from Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Francis Bacon.

“Art must touch you and leave a strong visual and mental impression upon you,” Beyeler once said.

The collection was estimated by Swiss economics magazine Bilanz to be worth at least SFr2 billion ($2.1 billion).

Branco Weiss

Prominent patron Branco Weiss, a staunch supporter of the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, died at the end of October after a long illness, aged 81.

Weiss, who was born in Zagreb, encouraged young entrepreneurs and start-up companies.

He was particularly known for the Branco Weiss Fellowship which gave  young researchers a generous personal grant for them to work on a topic of their choice for a maximum duration of five years.

Weiss was the founder and past president of the Swiss Venture Capital Association and a frequent lecturer on innovation and high-tech entrepreneurships.

The former president of  the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities, Alfred Donath, credited with helping Holocaust victims and their heirs to recover money from Swiss banks, died in June, aged 78.

Donath was a key figure in mediation between the World Jewish Congress and the banks. He was the federation's vice president in 1998 when the banks reached an out-of-court settlement in New York to pay Holocaust victims and their heirs $1.25 billion.

The son of a rabbi, Donath studied medicine, specialising first in paediatrics and then in nuclear medicine.

The federation wrote: “He was characterised by his modesty, optimism, cosmopolitanism, congeniality and respect for other human beings. He will remain a role model for all of us.”

Biel and Nicolas G. Hayek

A street and a park are to be named after Hayek, it was announced on December 20 by Biel authorities.

The street is under construction and is expected to open in 2012 near a new factory being built by the Omega brand. The park is near Lake Biel and will be inaugurated in spring 2011.

Hayek “contributed to the rescue of the Swiss watchmaking industry and to the development of the city” said local mayor Hans Stöckli. He added that the projects had the blessing of the Hayek family.

End of insertion

Life and death

According to the Federal Statistics Office, in 2009 the life expectancy at birth for Swiss men was 79.8 years and for women 84.4 years.

There were 7.786 million people resident in Switzerland at the end of 2009. Of these 50.8% were women and 49.2% men.

The Statistics Office said that the number of children per woman was 1.5.

End of insertion
In compliance with the JTI standards

In compliance with the JTI standards

More: SWI certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative

You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here. Please join us!

If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at

Sort by

Change your password

Do you really want to delete your profile?

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Almost finished... We need to confirm your email address. To complete the subscription process, please click the link in the email we just sent you.

Discover our weekly must-reads for free!

Sign up to get our top stories straight into your mailbox.

The SBC Privacy Policy provides additional information on how your data is processed.