Meet Dr. Mélanie Zimmerman, new U.S. Consul General in Quebec City

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Photo: Shirley Nadeau

Dr. Mélanie Zimmerman, the new Consul General of the United States of America in Quebec City, stands next to a framed copy of the Declaration of Independence.

The newly arrived U.S. Consul General held a reception at her residence in Old Quebec on Sept. 18 to get to know members of the community. She graciously granted an interview to the QCT the following day.

Dr. Mélanie Zimmerman was born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Maryland. Her mother is French and her father is American. She attended a French lycée (high school) in Washington and is fluently bilingual.

She explained, “The school was full of diplomat kids, and it was like a United Nations of nationalities. Basking in an international community and having contact with kids from all over the world gave me a real appreciation for moving around and embracing different cultures, languages and religions and just wanting to discover the world.”

She and her family arrived in Quebec City on Aug. 25. Her 15-year-old son Theo is now attending a boarding school in Vermont, and 13- (almost 14-) year-old Arthur is attending the Petit Séminaire de Québec. “It’s nice for him to live close to the school, which is less than 600 metres from the Consulate. It blows my mind that my son is attending a school that was founded over 300 years ago by a charter signed by Louis XIV!”

Zimmerman’s last posting was in Mauritius, an island nation in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Africa. “It is a gorgeous island, extremely interesting in terms of religious and ethnic dynamics,” she said. “The downside is, it’s really far to get home for Thanksgiving and Christmas.”

This is her family’s first time in Quebec City; she has yet to experience winter here. She is a little concerned about “thermal shock.” “I’ve been advised to adopt the ‘onion layering’ method of dressing. I have invested in extremely good quality ski jackets for the boys, turtlenecks and boots. I have even been told to buy a winter coat and boots for my dog!

“I am looking forward to going skiing, mushing, winter sports, etc. And of course, we have the famous toboggan slide right outside our door on Dufferin Terrace,” said Zimmerman.

She and her younger son are settling in nicely and, three days after their arrival, they even met members of the Quebec City fire department when he burned some toast and the sensitive smoke detectors were set off. “Before we knew it, the firemen were here with their ladder truck.”

Zimmerman started her career as a political analyst intern at the American embassy in Paris and also served as the ambassador’s interpreter. After the Foreign Service exams, she served in Cameroon (2004-2006), Togo (2006-2008), Burkina Faso (2009-2012) and then did a special assignment as a foreign policy adviser. “I was seconded from the State Department to the Department of Defense and for three years I was a diplomatic adviser in Germany to a two-star general at Special Operations Command Africa, which involved U.S. special forces training and equipping counter-terrorism forces in Africa,” explained Zimmerman.

A display of medals in her office caught this journalist’s eye. Zimmerman explained that she had been the political military adviser at the U.S. embassy in Togo, and the president of Togo presented her with the Légion d’Honneur for her work. Similarly, when she served in Burkina Faso, she received the Légion d’Honneur from the president of that country. Then the U.S. Chief of Staff awarded her a joint Meritorious Honor Award as a civilian working for the department. “I am proud of the medals; it kind of establishes the fact that I know what I’m talking about.”

During her talk the previous evening she spoke about how she would like to work to help women and girls. “While in Africa, I saw the conditions in which women live, the sacrifices women make, the discrimination they face .... Experience has shown me that there is a long way to go before women reach equality ... I feel that my role is to use my voice as a leader and as a woman to help other women who don’t have a voice.

Zimmerman also has a deep understanding of and appreciation for the arts and culture. “While in Africa, I loved being immersed in an artistic world that was so foreign to me. I taught ballet in Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso. I had such an amazing time.”

Zimmerman said, “When you’re passionate about something the way I am, you can find ways to bring it all together. I hope I can do a little bit of that here. I think the three years here are going to go by really fast. If I can survive the first winter, I think I’ll have it made!”

Editor’s note: We were unable to publish the entire text of the interview with Dr. Zimmerman in the Sept. 25, 2019, edition. The following is the continuation of that interview.

When asked what she hoped to accomplish while in Quebec City, Zimmerman replied, “First and foremost, to serve, to work for and take care of American citizens here, from birth to death, it’s a reality.

“Second, cultivating bilateral relationships with the government of Quebec and everyone else to understand as much as we can the realities of Quebec and be able to explain to Ottawa and Washington what makes Quebec special.

“Thirdly, to establish any channels of collaboration and cooperation that we can find. Last week, I spoke at the Canadian and Quebec Chambers of Commerce about doing a trade mission to Miami. There are some 20 different Quebec companies interested in exploring the possibility of investing in the Miami area.”

She continued, “I would like to work in the Arctic and to help create reliable, renewable clean energy. I would personally like to focus on women’s empowerment in young girls, not only in Quebec but up in the northern territories. It’s not just about well-established Quebecers, but also about newcomers who may be coming from many different backgrounds. How do we make sure women have their rights respected?
“The last one is the arts and culture. I grew up basking in the arts. I trained as a ballerina, and I held on to it until I was 17 or 18 when I realized I wasn’t quite good enough to make it and I didn’t want to be the 32nd swan in the back. I wanted to be the top swan in the front!

“I grew up going to the Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts, the theatre, the symphony, the opera and museums on Sunday afternoons with my parents. Art, for me, is a way for people to connect ... I would love to be able to see what cultural exchanges we can do.