Mrs Robin Massée, Chevalier of the Legion of Honor
Ma Chère Robin, Cher Alan,
Monsieur le Conseiller à l’AFE et Président de la American Society of the French Legion of Honor, Cher Guy Wildenstein,
Cher Père Desbois, whose presence means a lot to all of us,
Chers amis, dear friends,
It is such a pleasure and a privilege to welcome you all today to the French Consulate on this very special occasion, as we are gathered here this afternoon to honor Robin Massée, one of the most prominent members of the French-American community in New York and an exceptional individual who is also a personal friend.
I would like to extend a warm welcome to Robin’s family and friends who have joined us here today to show their support and admiration.
With a special word of appreciation to her husband Alan Bridges, to whom I also want to pay tribute this afternoon as well as their son Benjamin, their daughter Lauren, Robin’s mother Holly Massée and the others members of your family who are here with us today.
Chers amis, the Legion of Honor that I will bestow upon Robin Massée in a few minutes was created by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 to reward extraordinary accomplishments and outstanding services rendered to France, based on a decision by the President of the French Republic. It is France’s highest distinction and one of the most coveted in the world – and you know the long tradition of French modesty ….
Mes chers amis,
Robin is an important player in the Franco-American friendship and let me start by saying that French-American relations, and this is good news, have rarely been stronger than they are today, as illustrated by President Hollande’s very successful state visit to the United States a few months ago.
Speaking of state visit, it reminds me that of President Kennedy to Paris back in the 1960’s (…).
Ma Chère Robin,
Your parents, Jacques and Holly Massée, were enamored with France, and they decided, when you were barely 3 years old, to move the family from Kansas, where you were born, to Paris. You completed most of your schooling in France but every summer, you returned to Kansas, to stay with your maternal grandparents for the vacations.
Steeped in these two cultures, you then went back to the United States, in Massachusetts, where you received your B.A. in 1975 and a Masters in Education three years later, both from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. You then committed yourself to helping those most in need, as part of UNESCO’s International Institute for Education Planning, and took part in numerous programs aiming to develop education networks in Senegal, Kenya and Liberia. You were fascinated by New York and decided to settle here. Your interest in French culture, language and history naturally oriented you towards the Cultural Services of the French Embassy. From 1977 to 1987, as head of public relations, you put your energy and expertise in the service of the Cultural Counsellor. You notably organized the official visits of two French Ministers of Culture: Jack Lang in 1984 and François Léotard in 1986.
The same year, you were in charge of putting together France Salutes New York, an arts festival at Lincoln Center, and helped organizing the visit of the President of the French Republic for the Centenary of the Statue of Liberty.
Ma Chère Robin,
During that same time, you prepared several documentary projects, including a television series entitled “French Encounters”, which featured French personalities as prominent as Yves Montand, Charles Aznavour, Eugène Ionesco and Yves Saint-Laurent.
In 1986, you helped organize the « France Salutes New York » festival, dedicated to the performing arts, at Lincoln Center. This experience led you to being appointed Director of Communication for the New York International Art Festival, a position you held through the early 1990’s.
In 1989, Jack Lang put you in charge of organizing the “Fête de la Musique”, or Music Day, in the streets of New York, a mission you accomplished with great success and panache.
At the beginning of the 1990’s, without renouncing your commitment to culture, you became, for a few years, an independent consultant. In that capacity, you worked on promotional campaigns for various cultural institutions, such as the Montblanc Cultural Foundation, the Jacques d’Amboise National Dance Institute and the Children’s Museum of Manhattan.
In 1996, you were named Head of Communications at the French Tourism Office in New York, in charge of promoting our country to the American public. Here again you succeeded brilliantly, bringing American tourism in France to new heights. I am glad to see Anne-Laure Tuncer, the head of Atout France in New York and several other members of Atout France. You held this position through August of 2004, when the French Institute Alliance Française had the good idea of hiring you as Vice-President, in charge of Development strategy. I was the Consul General in New York at that time and I remember your incredible work - in organizing the Bastille Day Street Fair for example.
Actually, you never really left the world of film, since, in addition to your professional activities, you founded, in 2006, your own communication and production company. In this capacity, you directed several promotional films for France, but also outstanding and deeply moving documentaries on World War II veterans. This was your way of fostering remembrance, while contributing to reinforce the Franco-American friendship. You also directed, 3 years ago, a very moving documentary on the exceptional women, most of them nurses, who were engaged on D-Day. I believe we will see part of it in few minutes.
Honoring the World War II veterans and all those who risked and often sacrificed their young lives to restore our freedom is for you a sacred duty.
It is also for France, as illustrated by the recent commemorations on the beaches of Normandy for the 70th anniversary of D-Day, with President Hollande, President Obama and several other Heads of State and Government.
I had the privilege of attending these commemorations and I can tell you that there was no dry eye among the tens of thousands in attendance. We will never forget.
I would also like to point out that, in line with your strong commitment to remembrance, you became president of American Friends of Yahad-In-Unum in 2011. The mission of this association, founded by Father Desbois, is to uncover the truth about the millions of Jews who were killed in Eastern Europe between 1941 and 1944, as part of what historians today describe as the “holocaust by bullets”. It is a great honor to have Father Desbois with us for us today.
Father, your commitment to this cause with Robin and David Black is a source of deep admiration and inspiration for me and, I am a sure, for all of us.
Ma Chère Robin,
On a different note, let me also mention here the many communication and public relations campaigns you organized for major Franco-American associations such as the French American Foundation or the Franco-American Chamber of Commerce, always demonstrating the same energy, enthusiasm and remarkable professionalism. Whenever, there is a major undertaking to promote France and the French-American friendship, you are part of it, in the first rank, as was the case for Taste of France last year and for the exceptional event on Liberty Island on June 6th to commemorate D-Day.
Ma Chère Robin,
I vividly remember the ceremony organized last year by Renaissance Française, an association founded by the French President Raymond Poincaré in 1916, to reward the initiatives contributing to the promotion and prestige of our culture, during which I awarded you the Gold Medal for Solidarity and Valor.
Since then, you have acquired the French citizenship and I want once again to warmly congratulate you for that. You are still a proud American of course but you are also now a French National and so you are more than ever a bridge between two countries.
Today, on behalf of the President of France, and in recognition of your extraordinary commitment to French-American cultural cooperation and friendship, it is a great privilege for me to now bestow upon you the insignia of Chevalier in the Legion of Honor.
Robin Massée, au nom du Président de la République et en vertu des pouvoirs qui me sont conférés, je vous fais Chevalier dans l’Ordre national de la Légion d’Honneur./
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