George SAPE awarded Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur
New-York, May 5, 2011
Cher George Sape,
Chère Madame, Chère Jeri,
M. le Conseiller à l’Assemblée des Français de l’Etranger et Président of the American Society of the Legion of Honor, Cher Guy Wildenstein,
M. le Consul Général, Cher Philippe, whom I’d like to thank for being our host tonight,
Madame la Consule Générale de Monaco,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure and a privilege to be with you tonight for this very special ceremony in honor of our friend George Sape.
I presented my credentials to President Obama only 10 weeks ago and I am very pleased that one of my first public appearances here in New York as the French ambassador is to honor such a close and long-time friend of my country.
I would like to welcome your many friends who have joined us here tonight to express their support and admiration.
May I say a particular word of welcome to your wife Jeri, who has always stood by you and who shares your love story with France. My tribute to you George, extends to Jeri, to whom I would also like to express France’s gratitude.
Today my country honors a brilliant lawyer, a great philanthropist and a lifelong friend of France.
Actually, Cher George, you are one of the greatest ambassadors of France’s “art de vivre”.
You were born in Riga, Latvia, and immigrated to the United States when you were only 8 years old. After graduating from University of Colorado law school, you started your career at the U.S. Department of State as counsel to the United States Delegation to the INTELSAT Treaty. You were quickly promoted and spent several months in Paris working from the Embassy there,
but actually you spent most of your free time enrolling in the “Cordon Bleu Culinary School” to learn French cuisine.
You then returned to Washington as a member of the White House staff, under President Nixon, where you worked on special assignment to develop and manage passage of major legislation. In this capacity, you participated in the drafting and subsequent enactment of the major Civil Rights Act of 1972.
Called back inbetween to capitol Hill, you came to New York in 1976 to assume a position as Vice President and General Counsel of ORC, a Rockefeller family company.
Since 1986, you have been managing partner at Epstein Becker & Green and are responsible for the oversight of all the firms’ business operations.
Equally impressive is your active involvement in philanthropic activities and the special relationship you have developed with France over time.
For many years now, you have dedicated much of your talent and energy to preserving the French heritage and exporting French culture to the United States.
In this respect your love affair with France’s vineyards is an open secret and I am happy that Jeri has taken no offense over the years.
The Fact is you are not only a wine collector of international renown, with cellars that many high-end French restaurants would envy, you are, first and foremost, a true connoisseur.
As such, you were elected as Membre d’Honneur by the Académie du Vin de Bordeaux, a distinction bestowed to only five Americans in its history.
You are also one of the most prominent members of the Commanderie des Vins de Bordeaux, where you serve as Maître, the Commanderie du Bontemps de Médoc et Graves, the Hospitaliers de Pomerol, and the Commanderie des Costes du Rhône.
Pauillac, Saint-Julien and Pétrus, Saint-Estèphe, Margaux and Cheval Blanc – you know all these appellations like the back of your hand and it is fair to say that you are one of the most recognized ambassadors of French wines in the United States.
An accomplished promoter of French art de vivre, you are also dedicated to preserving France’s architectural heritage. This is best exemplified by your commitment to the French Heritage Society, whose Chair Elizabeth Stribling I would like to warmly thank for being with us tonight.
French Heritage Society has contributed to more than 400 restoration grants and provided more than 10 million dollars to projects throughout France, as well as to projects that reflect French influence in the United States. Thanks to your commitment, countless castles and abbeys have been restored to their former luster.
Among the many fund-raising dinners for French-American causes that you and Jeri have organized and often underwritten,
may I mention the dinner you organized with Odile de Longchampt – whom I would also like to recognize – to restore the wonderful ceiling of the Consulate. I was the Consul general in New York at that time and I will never forget this truly exceptional event. This was groundbreaking event, as this was the first time in our diplomatic history that a private-public initiative restored one of our diplomatic landmarks. It was not easy at that time and I believe we could not have done it without George and Odile.
Your relentless dedication to develop ever-strengthening French-American ties is also illustrated by your work with the American Friends of Blérancourt.
In fact Sophie could not be here tonight because she is speaking on my behalf at the Woodrew Wilson House that is hosting the exhibition of American women rebuilding France after the first World War. And Sophie is actually going to mention you and Jeri in her speech tonight.
As a board-member and long-time patron, you support the French National Museum at the Château de Blérancourt, the only French National Museum dedicated to France’s relationship with another country.
By providing financial support for the renovation and expansion of the buildings, you have enabled the museum to reach its full potential and become a showcase for shared transatlantic history and remembrance after the Revolutionary War.
For many years, you also chaired the Board of Directors of the French Opera of New York, the only professional opera company in America devoted exclusively to French operas. Now in its 22nd season, l’Opéra Français de New York has produced 29 operas in a large variety of performance styles ranging from fully staged works to concert versions.
I could go on and on and mention your commitment to the Society of the French Oder of Merit, as its President, to the French-American Aid for Children with Jeri, to the French-American Foundation and the French- American Chamber of Commerce, among many other things. In the same veine, you have promoted many of the French chefs in the United States and have led several trips to my country on behalf of several cultural organizations for culinary and wine interests, but also cultural and artistic interests.
We often, almost mechanically, call the French-American relationship “special.” What makes it special is people like you, Cher George Sape.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the French Legion of Honor was established to reward outstanding services rendered to France, on the basis of personal merit.
Since it was founded by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, the Legion of Honor has been France’s highest award and one of the most coveted distinctions in the world.
Cher George Sape, in recognition of your strong commitment to the friendship and deep connection between our two countries, President Sarkozy has decided to award you the Legion of Honor that I am going to present you on behalf of the President and my country.
George sape, au nom du Président de la République, je vous fais Chevalier dans l’Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur./.