Vanessa Ibarra, second from left, receives the order of merit from French Consul General Vincent Hommeril. She's also pictured here with Dutch Consul General Ard Van der Vorst, left, and German Consul General Melanie Moltmann. Ms. Ibarra is the city's top liaison with the consular corps.

The government of France has awarded its second highest honor to Vanessa Ibarra, a longtime supporter of French engagement with Atlanta serving as director of the Mayor’s Office of International Affairs since 2018.  

Ms. Ibarra received the recognition — the National Order of Merit with the rank of knight — during a Monday celebration at the French Consul General Vincent Hommeril’s residence. It was bestowed on behalf of Emmanuel Macron, president of the French Republic, and Ambassador Philippe Etienne 

Vanessa Ibarra and French Consul General Vincent Hommeril.

In her remarks, Ms. Ibarra thanked those who paved the way for Atlanta’s internationalization and the French business community, but also those who set her on a lifelong journey where “all roads led to France.”  

“When I look at this medal, I feel an immense sense of pride and respect for what it stands for, for the personal journey to get here and smile because I know that none of the work that I have done throughout the years would be possible without the commitment and support of all those here,” she said in prepared remarks.  

Ms. Ibarra moved to France shortly after birth when her father took at job there for Telemecanique, later working at Schneider. Her two siblings were born in Paris to their intrepid Venezuelan mother who didn’t speak French. Their dad was a stickler for learning the language and culture of their adoptive home.

“To put it to you this way, as a young child, I thought my father was French. And at home we often heard ‘En Francais S’il te plait’ — ‘In French please,’” she said. Wherever the family went in the world, the kids enrolled in French lycées.  

At Georgia State University as an undergraduate, Ms. Ibarra studied French for her bachelor’s degree and studied abroad in Tours. She went on to get a master’s in international business from GSU’s Robinson College of Business, then even worked at Anis Cafe and Bistro in Buckhead before taking three successive roles fostering French trade and investment — all in Atlanta. First came Enterprise Rhone-Alpes Incubator, then trade promotion agency Ubifrance, then executive search firm YER 

Ms. Ibarra joined the mayor’s office in 2015 under Kasim Reed’s mayoral administration, working under then-director Claire Angelle, a France native who had taken up the position after leaving a communications post at the French consulate. She stayed on during the transition to the Bottoms administration and was awarded the top job upon Ms. Angelle’s departure in 2018. She called Ms. Angelle “a mentor, sister and a pillar in my personal and work life.” 

She also recalled Atlanta’s recent achievements in better , from the city’s startup exchange program with Toulouse, airport seminars with Charles de Gaulle and the more recent La French Tech designation, along with the ongoing France-Atlanta series.  

Recapping Ms. Ibarra’s considerable achievements in fostering French-American cooperation, Consul General Hommeril leavened his comments with fitting quotations describing her ambition and zeal for life, as well as her passion for educating young people in language and culture. 

His remarks, appropriately, were given in French, though an English translation was provided, leading with this sentiment:  

I frequently say that the profession of diplomat, often caricatured and even mocked, is not always easy, but there are moments when it is very pleasant and rewarding. Tonight’s ceremony is one of those moments. It was the Roman Emperor Hadrian, beautifully described by Marguerite Yourcenar in her Memoirs of Hadrian, who said: “A foreigner everywhere, I did not feel particularly isolated anywhere.” You come from many cultures, Vanessa, and that is an advantage and a strength. You are certainly not alone; the presence here of all your friends and loved ones proves it.

Ms. Ibarra was on hand for Global Atlanta’s most recent Consular Conversation with Mr. Hommeril: Consul General: French Business Community Sees Optimistic Transitions This Fall

Members of the international community turned out in support of Ms. Ibarra during the ceremony at the French residence. 

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...