“I shall return,” Pierre Brisard declared at a sayonara reception he hosted at the Imperial Hotel in 1982 upon his retirement from Agence France Presse after 12 years managing its Tokyo and Seoul bureaus.

News of his death at a Paris hospital on November 24, aged 95, led longtime Tokyo bureau hands to recall the famous quote, originally uttered by General Douglas MacArthur upon his World War II retreat from the Philippines. In fact, he somewhat resembled the “Gaijin Shogun,” as he tried to instill dignity and discipline in the bureau.

Each morning, we stood at attention to shake hands with him as soon as he entered the office, then at the old Asahi Shimbun building in Yurakucho. And when he dressed down bureau staff for their mistakes, it was with a booming voice coming from on high (he stood above 1.9 meters), according to retiree Hisao Tachiki. “But he was straightforward. Once he trusted you, he would thoroughly back you,” said the one time bureau union leader, now 80.

Brisard stayed on in Japan for several years after retirement, renting a big house in Yokohama and hosting parties, according to bureau secretary Asako Ohtani Shibata. “He was strict when we worked under him. But Brisardsan was so sociable otherwise,” she said, noting he was elected FCCJ president just months after his arrival.

She remembered an office dinner party at which a new Japanese reporter asked him if he could use chopsticks. “I have used chopsticks since before you were born,” he replied with a resounding laugh.

Brisard later moved to Hawaii with his Japanese wife and their son, and in his eighties settled down in his hometown near Le Mans, in a huge stone house with a cellar stacked with bottles of homemade Calvados.

I still thank him for not firing me when he saw me coming late for a morning shift. He prodded me to dress neatly and encouraged me with the occasional pay raise. On a rare visit to the bureau after his retirement, he congratulated me with a big smile on being one of the “lucky survivors.”

Shigemi Sato has been a staff reporter and writer at the AFP Tokyo bureau since 1975.