There simply aren’t enough hours in a day for Lise Veronneau. Sitting at her desk in the Burlington Fire & Police Department, the South Burlington resident has heaps of work as business administrator. But on top of it all, she’s a liaison for all things French.
The small “Bienvenue Québéçois” sticker on the bottom of her office door merely hints at her multicultural work as board director for the Alliance Française of the Lake Champlain Region and near decade-long run as president of Burlington’s Honfleur, France, Sister City Organization. It doesn’t convey that as of Monday, Veronneau is a newly-pinned recipient of France’s National Order of Merit.
Each year, the president of the French Republic presents the decades-old award to both French and Francophone individuals. The recognition falls just below the nation’s top order, the “Legion of Honour,” which is usually reserved for French citizens.
Like the Legion, the merit award has three ranks: Chevalier (Knight); Officier (Officer); and Commandeur (Commander). Veronneau was recognized at the Chevalier level, which honors individuals over the age of 35, with a minimum of 10 years of public service for French and Francophone causes.
“After 35 years of promoting French in her city of Burlington, Lise Veronneau has become a model of dedication and commitment in the field of Francophonie,” executive assistant to the Boston Consul General, Noah Ouellette wrote in a message to The Other Paper. Her commitment to France’s cultural and economic influence and work with the diverse U.S.’s diverse Francophone communities justify her appointment, he added.
Veronneau’s parents grew up in Quebec but moved to the U.S. shortly after they wed. The duo raised their six children in a French-speaking household, sharing history and culture.
“I give credit to my father for insisting that we speak French at home,” she said, adding to date she only speaks French to him.
Though Veronneau quickly acclimated to the English language in grade school, her ties to the Francophone, or French-speaking, community never severed. Rather, she worked diligently to maintain them. As an adult she began serving various Francophone causes both through her Burlington Police Department community outreach and after-hours with various local and international organizations.
In 2012, Veronneau was nominated by the then-mayor of Burlington Bob Kiss to foster relationships between the Queen City and Honfleur, France. Her efforts included promoting the arts, cooking and other cultural exchanges between the two cities. She has maintained her post as the French Sister City program president ever since.
Three years later, Veronneau represented Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger as a speaker during a Francophone and Francophile cities of America conference. The meeting served to celebrate and promote the diversity of Francophone communities across the continent.
In 2016, her work with the Alliance helped with the “Quebec-Friendly Business Seminar,” which brought local legislators, businesses owners and other entities together to brainstorm a more Francophone-friendly Burlington region.
“She’s the consummate diplomat,” Alliance president Marc Juneau told The Other Paper. “She does everything with a big smile on her face and a can-do attitude.”
According to Veronneau, the efforts are all things she’d do regardless of accolade.
“It’s important and so I commit my personal time to a lot of (cross-cultural events),” she said. “I feel it adds to the greater community well-being.”
At the Francophonie flag-raising ceremony Monday, members of the Burlington Police and Fire departments, Shelburne Boy Scout Troop 602, an Underhill Girl Scout Troop and Francophiles galore turned out to watch Veronneau and Ernie Pomerleau be knighted to the National Order of Merit and Legion of Honour, respectively.
Arnaud Mentré, the Consul General of France in Boston, bestowed Verronneau and Pomerleau their pins, while Mayor Miro Weinberger, officials from Quebec and Canada, and the governor’s office offered remarks and congratulations.
With a broad smile on her face, Veronneau thanked her family for their support.
“You’re my future,” she said. “You’re our heritage.”
And yes, Veronneau intends to wear her pin.
“It’s encouraged,” she said, adding the article is meant to start conversations about cross-cultural interaction and the good work she’s accomplished, as well as to serve as reminder to keep going.
“I feel like there’s a new level of responsibility with this title and I want to make sure that I don’t let anybody down and I execute my new charge,” Veronneau said.
If her coworkers’ opinions are any indication, she’s far from underperforming. In a press release, the department noted Veronneau’s efforts both in and out of the Burlington Police Department to strengthen the community.
“A spirit of international cooperation and cross-cultural exchange is just what our nation needs right now,” Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo said, adding the department is proud to see her awarded for doing just that.
“I’m overwhelmed with gratitude to be recognized,” Veronneau said. “It’s just nice to know that the president of France... values the work that I’ve done. I look forward to doing a whole lot more going forward.”