3 Lost Sisters

Having lived in Westport my whole life, I thought I knew everything about this town.

From the Bankside Farmers to the banks no one ever goes to; from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Marilyn Chambers, I’ve heard all the stories.

Except the fact that Westport has 3 sister cities.

It’s right there in Wikipedia, which never seldom lies: “Westport currently has three sister cities: Marigny, France; St. Petersburg, Russia; Yangzhou, China.”

If that’s true, we must be part of a very dysfunctional family. You know, the kind that never gets together– even for holidays, weddings and funerals.

Well, it is true. I typed “sister cities” into the town website. There it is again, under “Appointed Boards”:

The Westport Sister Cities Association is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving human ties and understanding through cultural, trade, and educational exchange with other communities throughout the world. The Association strives to enrich the lives of Westport and Fairfield County residents through participation in such exchanges.

Westport currently has three sister cities: Marigny, France; St. Petersburg, Russia; Yangzhou, People’s Republic of China.

So we not only have 3 sisters — we’ve got an entire Association dedicated to them.

Marigny - magnifique!

The Marigny connection makes sense. Right after D-Day Westporter Bob Loomis — a gun sergeant — ended up there, 25 miles from Utah Beach. A couple of weeks later another Westporter, heavy machine gunner Clay Chalfant, moved through Marigny with his company on their way to Belgium.

Woody Klein’s history of Westport notes that after the war Charlotte MacLear, head of the French department at Staples, sparked an campaign to “officially adopt Marigny” and help its recovery. Our town sent clothes, money and Christmas gifts, thanks to fundraising that included selling toys and buckets with designs painted by Westport artists.

In return, Marigny created the “Westport School Canteen,” and named the town’s largest square “Place Westport.”

In June 1994 — as part of the 50th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy — Marigny invited 3 Westport middle school students and 2 Westport veterans to stay in the homes of residents. They visited shops named “Westport Pharmacy” and “Westport Gift Shop.” The 2 veterans were, of course,  Loomis and Chalfant

Zut alors!

St. Petersburg seems to have no connection to Westport. It is, however, the only one of our 3 sisters I’ve actually visited. I don’t recall any signs hanging near the Hermitage or Neva River saying “Здравствуйте, Westport” (thanks, Google Translate!).

Of course, I might have missed them. There was a lot of vodka involved.

St. Petersburg -- not too shabby.

Finally, Yangzhou. Of our 3 lost sisters, this was the one with the most potential. After all, the US is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of China, so we ought to embrace our relative with all the money.

Bingo! (Or, as we say via Google Translate, 宾果!)

Google offered several links. The 1st was a long-ago sister-city site on a Staples server. It hasn’t been updated since 2002, but it included information about exchange programs with students, and a trip to Yangzhou by long-ago social studies teacher Todd Parker. Though the messageboard, chatroom and guestbook were all defunct, clearly some sort of arrangement once existed.

Clicking the link to Yangzhou’s official site delivered this error message: “The URL. http://www.china-yz.com is categorized as ‘pornography.'”

Now we’re talking!

Yangzhou in the spring.

Another link brought up a long-ago journal entry from Chris Fray, the Staples Mandarin teacher. Traveling in China, he wrote:

I meet Joel and Arline Epstein, two Westporters who have recently moved from Long Island. They are on a four day visit to Yangzhou and want to meet me. Joel and Arline are active in the Westport Sister City Committee and have come to Yangzhou to scout out some potential activities for the Committee as part of a larger-scale visit to China….We spend most of the dinner discussing China and the potential of future exchanges between Westport and Yangzhou.

And in June 2005, WestportNow reported, then-First Selectwoman Diane G. Farrell visited Yangzhou to “commemorate” the 10th anniversary of the sister city relationship, and then renew it.

Since then, 这是她写道 (“that’s all she wrote”).

Chris Fray confirms that — after 9 years or so of teacher exchanges, and a few other connections involving photographers and businesspersons — our Yangzhou connection has petered out.

There’s no more information online about our sister-city relationship with Yangzhou — or St. Petersburg, or Marigny. And, Chris thinks, the sister city committee hasn’t met in several years.

Do you think it was something we said?

13 responses to “3 Lost Sisters

  1. Several years ago I ended up Westport, New Zealand, a small mining town on the south island. I was talking to a local at his office, and mentioned I was from Westport, CT. He said, “Oh yeah, I think I met a bunch of your townsmen when we hosted the Westport’s of the World meeting a few years ago.”

    I laughed at him, assuming it was a joke, I mean Westport of the World? Seriously?! But he ran into his back room and pulled out a bright red WOW–Westports of the World sweatshirt. I was gobsmacked.

    Anyway, as a former Westporter, (class of ’94) but current Chinese resident maybe I will swing by Yangzhou at some point and re-connect the two cities. 😉

  2. Angela McKelvey

    God bless Miss MacLear and her campaign for Marigny,France. What a teacher! Had her for French at Staples in the fifties. I remember her always. Angie Arcudi McKelvey

  3. Did you know that Tim Honey (Staples – ’64’) is a former head of the SCI – or Sister Cities Intl. program? Also a three sport athlete and an AFS student.

  4. Charlotte McLear was the most gracious of women. I am glad I knew her at least for a couple of years. And by the way there is Westport, California. Stopped there in 1972 to send a postcard to Tony Arciola. Fellow in the little store there rummaged around in a drawer and found one for me.

  5. I had her for French in the earlly/mid-60s. If not for Miss MacLear I would have known nothing about the Tour de France — or Marigny. I passed through Westport, Ireland in the late 80s where two locals joked with me about the influx of tourists from Westport, CT. In the late 50s, while visiting the Welchs of Westport (dad Harry, mom Tootie, kids Suzi ’66, Harry ’69, Chris and David ’76) in Ausable, NY big Harry thought it would be fun to go to Mass in nearby Westport, NY, so we did. Dan, for more info on Sister Cities you might want to contact Tim Honey ’64, the former Executive Director of Sister Cities International.

  6. I see that Bobby Kyle ’64 beat me to it re Tim H. Bobby’s right about Tim: star fulllback on a great Wrecker football team co-captained by Mr. Kyle; co-captain of the basketball team; co-captain of the Staples baseball team. AFS student to South Africa. Civil rights activist along with his entire family. Tim has long deserved recognition by the Staples Wall of Fame and the Sportsmen of Westport (as does Bobby Kyle), but that’s another story for another day.

  7. Dick Lowenstein

    What ever happened to the Westports of the World? Google the phrase and you get a bunch of hits, including this Facebook link:


  8. I was one of the three middle school students to go to Marigny in 1994. It was the most amazing experience of my life! My major became French, I met my wife in France, got married in France, I still speak with my French family…

    But, I guess this post is about Westport and Marigny – and, for that bond I am truly grateful. The people of Marigny were so deeply grateful 50 years after the fact that even a naive middle school student could tell Westport must have done something pretty special. The other incredible aspect of the trip was the opportunity to get to know some of Westport’s finest men – Bob Loomis and Clay Chalfant. I can’t even imagine what that trip meant to them.

    That day in 1954 changed the world. That trip in 1994 changed my life. And, Westport had a hand in both.

  9. We had a Westports of the World get-together in 1991. It included a clambake at the beach and the group marching in the Festival Italiano parade. I believe Betty Lou Cummings was the chairman.

    The following year I attended the WOW meeting in Westport, Nova Scotia. There were “delegates” from all over the world, including Westport, Ireland, and Westport, New Zealand. Also, California, Kansas and Massachusetts among others. I never had the opportunity to go to another, but it was a lot of fun meeting people from so many different places named “Westport.”

  10. My dad, Dan Long, and former Westporter Jono Walker, took a trip to Marigny in the 1990’s as part of a sister city experience, too – they participated in a local bike race and stayed with locals. They were treated like royalty!

  11. Quote from If You’re Thinking of Living In/Westport, Conn.; Close to Manhattan, Rich in Resources
    Published: May 24, 1998
    ”Westport has a very charged, proactive population,” Mrs. Farrell noted. Indeed, heated debates erupt easily and often. Last spring, a pavilion offered as a gift by Westport’s sister city in China, Yangzhou, provoked an outcry because of the Chinese Government’s history of human rights abuses. The Westport Sister City Association decided not to accept the gift for now.”
    I believe it was to be placed at Longshore.

  12. From Joel Epstein, referenced above as a former member of Westport’s Sister City Committee, who now lives in Greenwich:

    What a pity that these sister city efforts have floundered. Did you know that at one point Yangzhou offered to build a Chinese pavillion or tea house at Compo Beach? Westport declined the offer, and there were comments made inside the town that it would be unseemly to have a Chinese looking building in “Our New England town.” How pathetic.

    By the way, Boulder, Colorado is a sister city of Dushanbe in Uzbekistan. Dushanbe sent a team of architects and builders to construct an incredible Uzbek Tea House, with gorgeous interiors that are right out of the 14th century and delicious Central Asian food. It is now the most popular gathering spot in the town, right next to the farmer’s market.