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Bermudian gets France’s top honour

Deep attachment to France: Anne-Claire Legendre, Consul General of France in New York, Gary Phillips, Michael Dunkley, the Premier, Nicole Haziza, Consul of France in Bermuda, and Governor John Rankin (Photograph supplied)

Gary Phillips has been given France’s highest award.

The former civil servant and teacher was presented with the Legion d’Honneur — Order of Legion of Honour — in front of family and friends at the Bermuda National Gallery, where he is chairman.

Anne-Claire Legendre, the Consul General of France in New York, gave Mr Phillips the medal, describing him in her speech as an “eminent member of the Franco-Bermudian community in Bermuda” and an “influential, larger-than-life personality”.

She told him: “A Bermuda native, you demonstrated, at a very young age, a deep attachment to France, to its language and culture.”

Ms Legendre detailed how Mr Phillips “brilliantly studied” French during his school years, before heading to Paris in 1964, as part of a programme at the British Institute.

His achievements there, she said, included graduating from the Sorbonne, and teaching at both school and university level.

Mr Phillips returned to Bermuda to teach French at the Berkeley Institute, his alma mater, and later helped to found the Alliance Française des Bermudes, of which he was made president in 1974.

“Throughout the ten years you held that position, your contribution to the spreading of the French culture and language in Bermuda and in the Caribbean was priceless,” said Ms Legendre.

She added: “For your unrelenting devotion to developing the French language and culture in Bermuda, for your outstanding career within the government of the island, and for all the extraordinary achievements of your life, it is my honour to award you today, on behalf of the president of the French republic, the distinction of Chevalier of the Legion of Honour.”

Mr Phillips told The Royal Gazette he was fascinated with France from a young age.

“I cannot now remember a time when France and things French did not have great significance to me,” he said. “It helped having great teachers at the Berkeley but I knew there would be no substitute for hard work and passion.

“In a sense, I decided to create for myself an image of what it could mean to be a person who did not just speak French but in a sense, somehow who was French. It continues to be a fun journey.”

Mr Phillips is a former Postmaster-General, director of tourism, and acting Cabinet Secretary, who is now involved in labour relations as a negotiator for the Government of Bermuda. He received an OBE in 2010.

UPDATE: This article was amended to remove the suggestion that Mr Phillips was the first Bermudian to receive the Legion d’Honneur. In fact, former Hamilton mayor William Frith was given the honour in 1992