A university research professor at Memorial will receive a significant honour from a foreign government.
Dr. Ronald Rompkey, English Department, has been chosen to receive the Ordre National du Mérite. This Order of Chivalry is awarded by the president of the French Republic to French nationals for distinguished civil and military achievements and to foreigners for service to France and the Francophonie.
The honour recognizes Dr. Rompkey’s contribution to the francophone community of Newfoundland and Labrador work that has significantly raised the profile of that small but important group.
This includes chairing the board of Société 2004, a body that organized activities to mark 500 years of French presence in Newfoundland.
“The French have been in Newfoundland as long as the English. For hundreds of years, they had the right to fish along Newfoundland’s shores,” Dr. Rompkey explained, adding that between 10,000-20,000 French men would have come to fish every year.
“There was a significant French presence here, but because they couldn’t establish any settlements, it was a kind of ‘phantom’ French presence.”
Dr. Rompkey’s research over several years has lent substance to that phantom. The French left a rich written record of their experiences and perceptions of this place, but those writings were never well known or accessible. He has studied and published those writings widely and published the results in the 2004 anthology Terre-Neuve: Anthologie des voyageurs français.
In the fall, he will publish En mission à Terre-Neuve, a collection of correspondence by Charles Riballier des Iles, vice-consul at St. John’s from 1885 to 1903. The dispatches cover 18 years of rich territory in Newfoundland’s history, including a bank crash, ministerial scandal and the great fire of 1892. “He gives us a picture of life here that hasn’t been given before,” said Dr. Rompkey.
With the Ordre National du Mérite, Dr. Rompkey is also being recognized for his academic contributions in France. In 2005, he was invited to lecture at the Université Michel de Montaigne in Bordeaux on Canadian and British literature, as well as the French overseas fishery.
“There’s a lot of interest in Newfoundland there because many people’s ancestors came here to fish, year after year,” noted Dr. Rompkey, who also lectured at the Sorbonne, the Université de Poitiers, and the Université d’Avignon et des Pays de Vaucluse.
The decoration associated with the Order will be presented by the Ambassador of France, Monsieur Daniel Jouanneau, in St. John’s on June 30.