Alan Merkle, longtime Mercer Island resident and former mayor, has been named the recipient of the Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Merite by the government of France.
The Order of Merit award was created in 1963 by President Charles de Gaulle. A Presidential award, it recognizes a minimum of 10 years of distinguished service to France in the public or private sectors, as well as the military. Conferring the rank of “Knight,” it is one of the highest awards given to non-French natives.
The award was presented before an audience of over 200 attendees by Emmanuel Lebrun-Damiens, Consul General of France, in a ceremony on Sept. 15 at the law offices of Stoel Rives, LLP in Seattle.
Merkle has been on the board of the French American Chamber of Commerce since 2008. In 2011, he was elected president of the organization, which fosters good economic, commercial, cultural and financial relationships between France and the United States.
Jack Cowan, Seattle honorary consul of France, lauded Merkle for his energy and leadership with the chamber, as well as helping found the Mercer Island Sister City Association.
Merkle has been a Francophile since at least the late 1990s. In 1999, he was invited to be part of a delegation from Seattle to visit Seattle’s Sister City, Nantes, France. During the same trip, he was asked by the Mercer Island Sister City Exploratory Committee to visit potential sister cities for Mercer Island in France. The result of that trip was the “twinning” of Mercer Island and Thonon les Bains, France. That 17-year relationship has flourished, and Merkle and his wife, Linda, have been bulwarks of the Mercer Island Sister City Association.
“From the beginning, Alan and Linda have been our leaders as Mercer Island forged many lasting relationships with the people of Thonon. Along the way, Alan and Linda built personal and professional friendships with the French people and their government. It is a wonderful thing that that friendship has now been formally recognized and this great honor was bestowed,” said Rich Conrad, former Mercer Island City Manager and current Sister City Association President.
Also addressing the audience was Marie-Christine Desprez, Thonon-les- Bains City Councilor and vice president of the Thonon les Bains Sister City Association. She praised Merkle’s early leadership in creating the Mercer Island-Thonon les Bains relationship and the student exchanges that followed.
“It highlights something you said to Mayor Jean Denais on your first visit to Thonon, namely you could send your children safely to our city and we know very well it is the same for our children when they come to Mercer Island,” she said.
In his remarks at the event, Merkle summarized his years in Franco-American relations.
“I have had the privilege of working with hundreds of people and organizations in nearly every conceivable setting. I have come to respect and value French culture, French values, and most of all French people,” he said. “I am extremely honored to receive this award – a sincere thank you to all of my friends, family and colleagues and to the French government for making this possible. I promise to represent the honor with the dignity it deserves.”
Merkle is partner and former chairman of the law firm of Stoel Rives, LLP. His practice has focused primarily on areas of infrastructures, construction and design and government contracts. Merkle was a member of the Mercer Island City Council from 1997-2005, and served as mayor from 2000-2005.