Francis de Marneffe, MD, general director emeritus of McLean Hospital, received the prestigious French Legion of Honor medal from Valéry Freland, Consulate General of France in Boston, at a formal ceremony on Monday, June 11, in Westwood, Massachusetts.
Created by Napoleon Bonaparte in May 1802, the French Legion of Honor (L’ordre national de la Légion d’honneur) acknowledges services rendered to France by persons of exceptional merit. It is the highest decoration offered by the French government. Although it is typically awarded to French nationals, acceptance to the Legion of Honor can be bestowed upon foreign nationals who have served France or upheld its values and principles.
Weeks before the ceremony, de Marneffe asked why he had been chosen to receive the Legion of Honor. “My answer was evident,” recalled Freland. “Because of you. Because you are a man of honor.”
Freland cited how de Marneffe, at the age of 16, had bravely escaped from his home country of Belgium on a bicycle as the Germans invaded in 1940 and continued biking across France to board an England-bound ship from the port city of Bordeaux. After escaping to England, de Marneffe trained with the Royal Air Force before becoming a British citizen and attending medical school at the University of London. He headed to the United States after graduating and began his career as a psychiatrist at McLean Hospital in 1953.
“Your honorable and courageous story never stops touching us and reflects all the qualities of a man of honor and courage,” said Freland. “In fact, you have always displayed these qualities throughout your life, especially with your prestigious medical career as a psychiatrist, reflecting your humanist values.”
Freland also lauded de Marneffe’s involvement since the late 1990s with the French Heritage Society, an American foundation that supports the restoration of French heritage. After becoming chairman of the Boston chapter in 2000, de Marneffe helped to increase the chapter’s membership to 90. He has also been instrumental in raising funds for the restoration of several U.S. monuments with French connections as well as castles and monuments in France, including Gore Place, The Mount, and Trinity Church, in Massachusetts; Petite Plaisance in Maine; and Château de Hautségur and Château de la Grange, France.
Despite all these achievements, de Marneffe said that he was pleasantly surprised to learn that he would be receiving the “little red ribbon” that fascinated him as a child growing up in Belgium.
“I know that the Legion of Honor is the most prestigious award of the French Republic, and receiving it is indeed an incredible honor,” said de Marneffe. “Never in my life did I think I would ever join the ranks of the recipients.”