A Wellington man has been made a knight of France’s National Order of Merit, but says he feels embarrassed about getting an award for doing something he loves.
Geoffroy Lamarche, a French marine geophysicist who lives in Hataitai, was given the award of Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Merite for his “inestimable contribution to the bilateral relations between France and New Zealand”.
Ambassador Laurent Contini said Lamarche, a principal scientist with the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, had been a key player in the development of scientific co-operation between France and New Zealand for more than 20 years.
The National Order of Merit was founded in 1963 by President Charles de Gaulle and is awarded for service to the nation.
Lamarche is among 10 New Zealanders to be honoured since its inception. “Working to bring New Zealand and France together is one of my passions and it was most embarrassing to get an award for something I love,” he says.
He was “gobsmacked” when he was told of the honour, and thought it was a joke.
“I got quite emotional. It is a huge honour and I feel quite humbled.”
Lamarche studied at Victoria University in the late 1980s before moving back to France with Kiwi wife Paula Fielden. They and their three sons returned to Wellington in 1998.
He says he feels as if he has two homes because of his close connection to France. He celebrated his accolade with fine champagne with his wife, children, colleagues and friends at the French embassy.
His award was in part for his major contribution to a research programme he developed in collaboration with French scientists. The programme studied abrupt palaeohistoric climate changes and the impact of earthquakes on the evolution of submarine landscapes.
Lamarche is a member of the scientific council of the South Pacific Integrated Observatory for Environment and Terrestrial and Marine Biodiversity.
Through this role, he has worked towards the reinforcement of New Zealand relations with France, New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna and French Polynesia, which culminated in the signing of a scientific co-operation agreement in June 2012.
Another flagship collaboration project has been the study of tsunami hazards in Wallis and Futuna.
Lamarche is currently carrying out a similar study in Samoa, in collaboration with French and New Zealand architects.
The study includes an anthropological approach to helping to reduce the vulnerability of communities to natural disasters.
— The Dominion Post