You know what’s a cool way to say thank you? A diplomatic medal.
Susan Lehrman got two in the past week — one from France, one from Russia, presented by their ambassadors at the D.C. embassies. The real estate investor (she made a fortune in NYC, and husband Sam is a developer and Giant supermarket heir) was honored for contributions to international relations, i.e., big bucks to arts programs dear to the ambassadors. “I have a great love of the French and Russian cultures,” she told us.
So how exactly does that land a medal?
France made Lehrman a Chevalier (the starter-level, if you will, of five ranks) in the Legion d’Honneur primarily for her support of the Kids Euro Festival launched by the embassy in 2008. President Nicolas Sarkozy gave her the award from his personal reserve; she received the medal last Thursday from Ambassador Francois Delattre.
The Russians followed Tuesday night with the Medal of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a ceremony featuring caviar, premium vodka, Fabergé egg-style cakes, and performances by young Russian musicians. Lehrman chaired the lavish 2010 Opera Ball at the embassy — flying in the Bolshoi Opera for the occasion — and recently endowed a $2 million chair in Russian culture at American University.
“Susan is one of the philanthropists who doesn’t have any business interests in Russia,” said Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. “She does it because she feels that by sharing culture we can bring people together.”
How rare are these things? The ambassador told us the Russian medal typically goes to political leaders; an embassy spokesman said she is the first American to receive the award. The French pass them out more liberally: The embassy tells us that 29 Americans (including Hollywood impresario Harvey Weinstein ) have received the Legion d’Honneur in the past 12 months.
And you’re wondering: What does one do with one’s medals?
Those presented this week are mostly for official display. There are smaller versions one can wear at white-tie events, and an even smaller size for black-tie parties — plus a ribbon “you can wear day and night, even with jeans,” Lehrman told us. Good to know.
Updated 10 a.m.: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the “Chevalier” as the highest of five ranks.