Popular French Professor is Knighted

David Martinon, Mary Collier and Gayle Beebe at Birnham Wood

David Martinon, Mary Blackwood Collier and Gayle Beebe at Birnam Wood

Mary Blackwood Collier, who has taught French at Westmont for 31 years, was knighted by David Martinon, consul general of France, Los Angeles, as a Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques on Aug. 26 at a private reception at Birnam Wood, attended by about 100 colleagues and friends.

“Your love for France is absolute, and I want, in the name of our country, to thank you for that long-lasting passion,” Martinon said. He quoted French novelist and filmmaker Marcel Pagnol, who described the honor as “the highest distinction the French Republic can give because it celebrates not only knowledge but the art of spreading it amongst students.”

Collier, a Santa Barbara native, completed bachelor’s and master’s degrees in French at UC Santa Barbara. She earned a doctorate with highest honors in French literature from the Université de Paris, Sorbonne. Since 1976 she has served on the faculty of the Music Academy of the West as French diction coach in the vocal department, now under the direction of Marilyn Horne. She was a student herself in two departments at the academy, piano under Emmanuel Bay and voice under Martial Singher.

“It is not that often that a foreigner is distinguished in that order,” Martinon said, “but for your tremendous passion for France and for your unstoppable action for promoting French culture, Madame Collier, I am very proud to give you this insignia today.

David Martinon and the knighted Mary Collier

David Martinon and the knighted Mary Blackwood Collier

Martinon affixed the purple ribbon with the medal to Collier’s collar as the crowd applauded. “I am thrilled and grateful for this distinction that your nation has conferred upon me and I am very proud to represent the French language and culture,” she said.

Westmont President Gayle D. Beebe spoke before the presentation, as did Scott Reed, president of the Music Academy of the West, and Frederick Sidon, past president of Opera Santa Barbara and president of Le Réseau Français de Santa Barbara, who nominated Collier. DeAndre Simmons, bass-baritone, and Natasha Kislenko, piano, performed Henri Duparc’s “Phidylé” and Gabriel Fauré’s “Mandoline.”

Collier, who has published several scholarly articles and presents papers regularly at international academic conferences, wrote the book “La Carmen essentielle et sa réalisation au spectacle” about the character of Carmen, both Mérimée’s literary and Bizet’s musical creations. She continues to immerse herself in French life and culture by living part time in Paris.


  1. Carolyn Duke Anderson says:

    I was a student of Prof. Collier at Westmont in the early 1980’s and she remains one of my most favorite memories of going to school there. She made the language accessible and fun. her love for France and the language was very clear, and I felt honored to be a student of hers. Thank you for honoring her in this way. Tres magnifique!

  2. Congratulations Mary. What a joy for you to be honored in this way…well deserved because of your passion for and love of French culture and literature. You have distinguished yourself in such positive endeavors. God’s blessings on your continuing professional and personal journey.

    Best Regardsm from your friend,

  3. sandra casey-martus says:

    Mary…a blessed and proud moment for you, and a moment in time that we all delight in as you are an integral part of our faith community. Sandy+

  4. Mary….a blessed moment for you and a proud moment for all of us at All Saints. We thank you for being a pillar of our community and a source of inspiration to your students at Westmont.

  5. Frederick R Sidon says:

    Mary, There’s nobody who deserved this honor more. Your years of seeing to it that French is enjoyed, properly spoken and pronounced (in song as well as speech) make you a real knight. I am proud and honored to be called a friend of yours. Congratulations once more.


  1. […] right. Mary Collier, popular french professor, was knighted on August 26th (click!). We would love to get her simply in her office, sitting at her desk, looking majestic and […]