Zina Weygand proudly sporting her decoration during her acceptance speech
I first met prominent historian and doyenne of 'Blind Studies', Zina Weygand in February 2012 and I was so impressed by our encounter that I wrote about it in one of my earliest blog posts here. Since that memorable meeting, I have spent many hours with Zina: we worked closely on the organisation of the International Conference on the History of Blindness and the Blind and enjoy catching up over tea and cake whenever I visit Paris.
Last week I was honoured and delighted to be invited to the ceremony in which Zina was awarded the Ordre de la Legion d'honneur. This honour, the highest that can be awarded to a French citizen by the French Republic, is hugely prestigious, and was bestowed on Zina by Jean-Louis Chambon, prefet honoraire, for the illuminating and ground-breaking work she has done to bring the history of blindness and the blind to international prominence.
As well as being a renowned academic, Zina is also, and above all, a gifted people-person. She loves putting researchers in touch with each other and has built up an impressive network of contacts across the globe: indeed she has provided me with many invaluable contacts in the relatively short time I've known her. Everyone I talked to at the ceremony refereed to her generosity of spirit, the genuine pleasure she gains from meeting people working on blindness and the blind, and her unfailing ability to make connections, create projects, initiate and maintain lasting friendships and energise those around her.
There is no doubt that my work on blindness would have been impossible without Zina's advice, guidance and support. The ceremony on 29 April was a moving and fitting tribute to her extraordinary life-work.