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Mary K. Young and John R. Young awarded of the insignia of the Legion of Honor

Published on May 2, 2012
Speech by Ambassador François Delattre

New-York, April 25, 2012

Dear John, dear Mary, dear friends,
Chers Guy, Kristina, Antonin, Bérénice, Philippe,
We have gathered here today in this glorious Venetian room to honor and celebrate two exceptional individuals, two pillars of French-American relations, two very dear friends.

There are those who make art. And there are those who make art possible. John and Mary, you are part of this latter group. As true arts benefactors, you prefer to take a “behind the scenes” role, but are nevertheless at the heart of all French-American cultural exchanges.

You both are a model of elegance, trust and respect, and have carried on the legacy of Florence Gould with enormous grace and dignity. You are our dearest friends.

In 2006 the regal statue of Thomas Jefferson near the bridge of Solférino in Paris was inaugurated. The event was very symbolic, as Thomas Jefferson is probably the most Francophile President in the history of the United States.

John chose not to attend the ceremony, though he was one of the main contributors to this meaningful project. “I take a back seat” he said, true to his natural discretion. Today, tradition forces me to take you both to the front seat. But we are among friends, so I hope that you will forgive me.

When Antonin Baudry, whom I’d like to thank for being our host today, suggested to Mary and John that the future Payne Whitney Mansion reading room bear their name, they answered that they preferred it to become the “Marcel Proust reading room.” This is the height of elegance.

When I think of John and Mary, the words trust and respect jump to my mind.

The generosity with which you supported our new project, the “972,” is extraordinary. You were the very first person that the Cultural Counselor came to see for this project, and rightly so. And without you, it would not have existed. Individuals, foundations and corporations have rallied together to support the project because they trust you.

So many French-American institutions, if not every major project related to France in the United States, are largely dependent on your support.

Your generosity is boundless, ranging from support for music (through contributions to the Opera Français de New York), for the media (such as French programming on CUNY-TV and France Magazine), to support for scientific research more recently (with donations to the Institut Pasteur).

To varying degrees, the Foundation is committed everywhere and yet your wide-ranging donations have a common focus: they are guided by intelligence, wisdom, and an exceptional knowledge of French-American relationships.

And this deep understanding of France reminds me just how much you have respected the wishes, life, and passions of Florence Gould.

As we all know, Florence Gould was a rare individual. A great Francophile, who dedicated her life to the promotion of French-American friendship through generosity and philanthropy.

Both of you have upheld not only the letter, but the heart and soul of Florence Gould’s mission. When you make philanthropic choices and decisions, your intuition and great generosity lead the way.

Cher John, you have always been a man of your word. As an associate of the prestigious law firm Cahill, Gordon and Reindel, you were entrusted, from the beginning, with carrying forward the Foundation.

And as the man who enjoyed Florence Gould’s trust until her death, you naturally became the Foundation’s President.

Et vous-même, Chère Mary, since the inception of the Florence Gould Foundation, you have always played a key role in offering your expertise. Even before becoming one of the Foundation’s Directors in 2002, you assisted John as an unofficial but major player in the Foundation’s activities.

A true Francophile and Francophone, you spent several years in Paris, first as a student, then for three years when John was employed by the Paris office of his law firm.

Dear Mary, Dear John, your true love for France inspired you, for instance, to encourage the Foundation to restore the park of Château de Versailles, after the December 1999 windstorm, with an exceptionally generous grant.

More than anything, your actions sustain the unique bond of friendship between France and the United States and allow the next chapter of Florence Gould’s legacy to flourish in the 21st century.

You are the closest partner of the Cultural Services of the French Embassy – and since 2005, our largest private supporter. Without you, the Embassy could not bring energy and strength to its partnerships with so many American cultural institutions.

Throughout our collaboration, we have found you true to your principles: graciousness and loyalty, respectful of the traditional, but also supportive of the contemporary.

Dear Mary and John, we cannot thank you enough for being so faithful to us through the development of FACE’s fund and for supporting us in groundbreaking projects. You have saved an emblematic building, the Payne Whitney Mansion, and you have inscribed it with a French touch in the landscape of New York City. Thanks to you, a new generation will have access here to French history, education and culture.

With this project, we understand and act on the core of our mission. Thanks to you, the newly restored “972 hub” and the corresponding Foundation will support all institutions in the French-American sphere and will give them a beautiful home.

Cher John, Chère Mary, we owe you so much. France is forever grateful to you.

You are a source of inspiration and admiration for all of us, for all those who believe in the uniqueness of the French-American friendship.

This is the cause you have devoted your life to. And you can count on me, and on all of us, to continue to tirelessly promote the French-American cultural exchanges that are more important than ever in today’s world.

As you all know, the Legion of Honor is France’s highest distinction and one of the most coveted in the world.

The promotion to the rank of Commandeur and Officier is truly exceptional, reserved for very few – the crème de la crème.

And I believe bestowing the Legion of Honor at these ranks to the two halves of a couple at the same time is unprecedented.

It reflects how unique you are, Mary and John, both individually and as a team.

Mary Young, au nom du Président de la République, nous vous remettons les insignes d’Officier de la Légion d’Honneur.

John Young, au nom du Président de la République, nous vous remettons les insignes de Commandeur de la Légion d’Honneur.

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