None of us in the family remember exactly when Ion first started wearing bow ties.
Elisabeth Ratiu, his widow, believes it may have been during the 1960s, during Ion’s first major lecture tour of the United States – the lecture tour in which he first warned Americans of the true nature of the communist threat.
“Ion’s bow tie”, Elisabeth says, “may have been his way of making a personal statement to his American audiences. Wherever Ion was, he liked to stand out”.
Indrei Ratiu, Ion’s elder son, confirms Elisabeth’s take on Ion’s bow ties, because around the mid-sixties when he entered Cambridge University following in Ion’s footsteps, Ion bequeathed to him his entire collection of straight ties!
Ion’s London offices were always right around the corner from Jermyn Street, well-known for its many gentleman’s clothing stores, including suppliers of bow ties. Ion had his favorite Jermyn Street bow tie supplier and his favorite designs. He was very fond of dark colors with lighter spots, always in silk. He detested “clip-ons” or any kind of “short-cut” bow tie, and always tied his own from scratch, every day.
Nicolae, Ion’s second son who today runs the family business, recalls that arriving in Romania after the fall of communism, Ion liked the fact that people reacted to his bow tie and it de facto became an important part of his image in the Romania of the 90s.
“Mention bow tie (“Papion” in Romanian) and people immediately thought of him… and by association the image he projected: one of good nature, direct talking, honesty, democracy personified (in much of the Romanian public’s view).
“We all lived with it (the bow tie). For example, Ion used to tell a story of when he went to the big Bucharest glass factory – Optica. His Romanian ‘advisors’ warned him that being a hotbed of communist workers sympathizing with Iliescu, he should not wear his bow tie there. ”
“NOOOOOO” they all shouted, and the hostile crowd turned friendly…
“I was outside the factory so I know it was true!”
Much has been written about the sociological and even political significance of bow tie wearing in the Romanian political spectrum since Ion Ratiu left us.
What is certain is that on the Romanian political scene, the bow tie will for many years to come be associated with Ion Ratiu, with his clarity of vision, his blunt approach, his impeccable manners and his sartorial elegance - according to some - “the best president Romania never had”.