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Parties: The French Connection

Written by Catherine Bigelow | Photography by Drew Altizer

While the world was under lockdown last December, Monsieur Thomas E. Horn — the War Memorial & Performing Arts Center board president, honorary consul of Monaco and San Francisco–Paris Sister City Committee chairman — was over the moon when French President Emmanuel Macron announced the 2021 recipients of the ordre national de la Légion d’honneur. Horn is one of only seven Americans this year awarded France’s highest honor of merit.

This certainly was not Horn’s first honors rodeo: He’s medaled thrice for his cultural philanthropy in service to the French Republic. But the Légion is the crème de la crème. And Horn, 75, wanted to celebrate. So he waited out our mandated shutdown until his family, arts colleagues, diplomats and a legion of friends could safely travel to join him for a two-day fete.

That kicked off July 18 with a McCalls brunch paired with tunes française by bandleader Marianne Kent — and a surprise appearance by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (en route to SFO from his annual Bohemian Grove encampment, still wearing a mariachi hat from his favorite Grove band) — overlooking the Bay from the Russian Hill penthouse aerie of Chief of Protocol Charlotte Shultz.

The next evening in the Green Room of the War Memorial Veterans Building, Horn — who, in 2015, helped spearhead a $156 million renovation of the Beaux Arts beauty, including restoration of that room’s original green hue — celebrated in magnifique style in the first post-shutdown Green Room soiree.

Performances by San Francisco Conservatory of Music students and a lavish McCalls cocktail buffet greeted the 200-person guest list, crowned by Horn’s husband, Cesar Alexander, Lt. Governor Eleni Kounalakis, Mayor London Breed, Shultz, French Consul General Frederic Jung, Monaco Ambassador Maguy Maccario Doyle and Philippe Etienne, French ambassador to the United States, who flew in from Washington, D.C., to preside over Horn’s decoration ceremony.

“When we met last year, I was astounded by your genuine passion for France. Your dedication, expertise and actions in the fields of art and education. I was so impressed by the values of freedom and equity you continuously advocate for,” toasted Etienne. “For more than 30 years, you have promoted French language, culture and businesses, working with our consuls general and vibrant French community here. As a modern-day Renaissance man, your efforts bridge the distance between our countries. Your journey is exemplary. And tonight France honors you.”

Etienne also honored Shultz, “a great, strong, inspirational woman,” and her late husband, Secretary of State George Shultz, “a great friend to my country.”

Back in April 2019, Horn, an Albuquerque, New Mexico, native (as well as a former ACLU attorney and Bay Area Reporter publisher), donned his many chapeaus, swinging into action as flames ravaged the centuries-old Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Horn and Shultz got on the, erm, horn and, in just four days, these dynamic francophiles organized a Grace Cathedral concert to show solidarity with our sister city and inspire philanthropic support for the Parisian monument.

“Since former Mayor Dianne Feinstein first dreamed up our sister-city relationship, which, in 1996, former Mayor Willie Brown signed into accord, now we have French startups and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, Napa vintners, cultural exchanges and digital initiatives,” notes Horn. “What began as a whim, learning a foreign language as a middle-aged man, has developed into a driving, and joyful, passion of my life.”

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