Keeping America Beautiful

The wind roared yesterday afternoon at Compo.  The waves had whitecaps; sand blew sideways across the beach.  It was a weird way to welcome Tommy Longo to Westport.

It was his 1st time in Connecticut, but Tommy — Mayor Longo, that is; he’s the 3-term leader of Waveland, Mississippi — is no stranger to high winds and frothy waters.  Nearly 3 years ago his town was obliterated by Hurricane Katrina.

The mayor’s trip is a thank-you of sorts.  His host — Gail Cunningham Coen, whose Soundview Drive home offers a breathtaking view of the beach, whether fine weather or foul — is senior vice president of Keep America Beautiful.  Last year she masterminded her organization’s “Great American Cleanup” in Waveland.

Tomorrow Gail emcees a noontime event in Times Square.  Top New York City and federal government officials will be there; so will the cast of “Wicked,” Miss America — and Mayor Longo.  All will appear on enormous Jumbotrons at the crossroads of the world.  The mayor won’t be in Kansas — I mean, Mississippi — anymore.

Gail Cunningham Coen and Mayor Tommy Longo

Gail Cunningham Coen and Mayor Tommy Longo

He loves his town, but he’s happy to spread the word about Keep America Beautiful’s spectacular public-private partnership.  “We lost 95 percent of our homes, thousands of trees, flowers — even our insects,” he said Monday.  “Keep America Beautiful made it feel like home again.”

“After Katrina there were no birds, no sounds at all,” Gail noted.  “It was so eerie.  It was so wonderful to be able to help rebuild.”

“We’re flourishing now,” the mayor said.  “When the first oak trees sprouted, it was the start of a new beginning.  Then the volunteers came in.  Now when people drive down the road, they don’t see emptiness.  They see a beautiful, thriving community.”

Gail (who grew up on Soundview) enjoyed showing the beach to Tommy (whose boyhood Waveland home is a few steps from the  Gulf of Mexico).

“We’re so many miles away, but our towns are connected by living next to the water,” she said.

“Westport’s not Waveland, but I feel at home here,” the mayor added.  “It’s beautiful.  It reminds me of Waveland, pre-Katrina.”

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