French Ambassador to the U.S. François Delattre and Stephen Emerson '74
Stephen Emerson ’74 Presented With Legion of Honor
Former Haverford College President Stephen Emerson ’74 has been named a chevalier (or knight) of the National Order of the Legion of Honor. The Order, established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, is the highest decoration in France. The Légion d’Honneur, as it is called in French, is bestowed in recognition of “outstanding achievement in the military as well as in the public and private sectors.”
Emerson was honored by French Ambassador to the U.S. François Delattre at a January 18 ceremony in New York alongside economist and Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz for contributions to the French-American relationship. In particular, Emerson was celebrated by Delattre as “a brilliant doctor, a great scientist, a model of moral integrity and a great friend of France,” for his role in returning to the Institut de France a stolen letter penned by René Descartes that was rediscovered in Haverford’s Special Collections in 2010.
A scholar from Utrecht University found a reference to the four-page letter, which was penned in 1641, while doing a Google search in 2010. In it, Descartes explains to his publisher that he had decided to change the content of his Méditations Métaphysiques. The letter was one of thousands that had been stolen from the Institut de France in the mid-19th century by Count Guglielmo Libri, then-secretary of the committee for the general catalog of manuscripts in French public libraries, and its return garnered much interest from the press.
“Cher Professeur, as soon as you were informed of the letter’s existence, you declared there was only one responsible course of action: to return it to France,” said Delattre in his speech at the reception. “You immediately offered to give the document back to the Institut de France with no concern about what Haverford College might receive in exchange… You even flew to France to personally deliver the document to Mr. de Broglie himself. We are extremely grateful for this gesture.”
Delattre also paid tribute to the College in his speech, saying, “Haverford College has a strong tradition of faculty research and social responsibility in the fields of science and the humanities. It is the ideal model of an American liberal arts college, a model that France deeply admires.”
"I felt honored, very proud of Haverford and thrilled to have been able to elevate Haverford in the eyes of the Academy and the world, both in offering to return the letter, and in sharing with the French the history and values of the College," said Emerson, a hematologist and oncologist who is now the director of the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center at New York Presbyterian Hospital and Columbia University Medical Center. "I was fortunate to have been able to have served both the College and the larger world, simply by doing what was clearly right."