Swiss villagers remember Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn Pavilion

The inhabitants of a small village near Lausanne need no reminder of the late Audrey Hepburn on the tenth anniversary of her death from cancer at the age of 63.

This content was published on January 20, 2003 - 10:01

For the last 30 years of her life, the film actress was a popular member of the local community in Tolochenaz. She often walked her dogs through the village and warmly greeted her neighbours in French.

But it is not only the villagers who have fond memories of Hepburn, who after a highly successful movie career became a much-travelled Goodwill Ambassador on behalf of the United Nations Children's Fund.

Even now, ten years after her death, some 5,000 people from all over the world - two-thirds of them from Japan - visit Tolochenaz every year to pay homage at her grave in the cemetery of a local church.

A growing number of visitors from Eastern Europe and Russia are also flocking to the village.

Until late last year, they were also drawn by a small museum which displayed one of her two academy awards, along with many stunning photographs, original film posters and costumes she wore for films such as Breakfast at Tiffany's.

Run by volunteers, the museum - called the Audrey Hepburn Pavilion - raised nearly SFr400,000 ($290,000) from admission charges and donated the money to children's charities active in famine-stricken and war-torn regions.

But all of its contents were on loan for six years from Hepburn's two sons and the museum was forced to close when the period expired.

Deprived children

Its former director, Franca Price, says plans are being made to reopen the museum with a new as yet undefined concept linked to Hepburn - but one which will resume work on behalf of disadvantaged children.

A tour of the exhibition in Tolochenaz had ended with a room containing photographs of Hepburn during her visits to stricken regions. Her plain attire in jeans in T-shirts show a very different side to the glamorous actress.

"Beauty - there's no other word for it," Price told swissinfo. "No matter which photograph you looked at or from which angle, her face is quite extraordinary. It looks at you wherever you walk and just gives off every beautiful feeling you could imagine."

Visitors tended to tour the exhibition in silence and with mixed reactions.

"We had reactions of joy but also of great sadness that she's no longer with us," Price continued. "People were often watery-eyed when they reached the end of the tour because they saw the extent of the problems facing so many children in the world."

Comments in the visitors' book were liberally sprinkled with such words as beauty, grace, serenity and the phrase "a wonderful woman".

swissinfo, Richard Dawson

In brief

Born in Belgium of Anglo-Dutch parents, Audrey Hepburn is best known as an actress in films such as Roman Holiday, Sabrina, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and My Fair Lady. However, her greatest role of all was as a humanitarian.

Instead of settling down to a comfortable retirement after her film career was coming to a close in the late 1980s, she began the job that would occupy the last five years of her life: Special Ambassador for UNICEF.

As a child in the Netherlands after the Second World War, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, forerunner of UNICEF, brought her much-needed food, medicine, and clothing. "There is a moral obligation," she would say, "that those who have should give to those who don't."

Audrey Hepburn died at her home in Tolochenaz on January 20, 1993. She was 63 and had been suffering from cancer.

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