Merci, Marigny!

Here in the US, it’s Mothers Day. Across the country, families gather to celebrate Mom.

1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker got up early this morning, and headed to her Town Hall office. She was there to honor a sibling — well, Westport’s sibling.

Very few residents here know, but we have a sister town in France: Marigny.

Right after D-Day in 1944, Westporter Bob Loomis — a gun sergeant — was there. It’s just 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.

When the war ended, Charlotte MacLear — head of the French department at Staples High School, and a graduate of prestigious Sorbonne Université — sparked a 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.” Charlotte MacLear visited our sister town 3 times. Each time, she was honored and adored.

“Pharmacie Westport,” in Marigny.

We forgot the relationship. Marigny never did.

In June 1994 — as part of the 50th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy — town officials invited 3 Westport middle school students and 2 Westport veterans to stay in the homes of residents. They visited “Westport Gift Shop” and “Pharmacie Westport.”

The 2 veterans were, of course,  Loomis and Chalfant.

Marigny – c’est magnifique!

That was nearly 30 years ago. Once again, Westport has lost its connection with our sister town.

But still, Marigny remembers.

This morning — early afternoon in France — they dedicated a room in their Town Hall in Charlotte MacLear’s memory. It is now, and forever, “Salle Charlotte MacLear.”

For today’s event, Marigny officials put 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker front and center. The other photos show members of the Marigny town government, and a photo from the 1940s.

Tooker participated via Zoom.

Mayor Fabrice Lemazurier explained that the room is where the Town council meets, making “all the important decisions concerning Marigny-Le-Luzon’s future.” It is a town “proud of its history, ready to face its future.”

He noted that “Mrs. MacLear and her fellow Americans gave our territory a helping hand and restored smiles, particularly to our younger citizens.”

He added:

War once again on European soil certainly reminds us of the darkest hours of our history. It is our duty today to do everything to restore and preserve peace. I believe that in a certain way this is what we are doing today – to remember and never forget.

Marigny Mayor Fabrice Lemazurier, via Zoom.

After “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played on trumpet, 1st Selectwoman Tooker spoke. Beginning and ending in flawless French, she described Westport’s location near the United Nations, and noted how many residents have lived and worked abroad.

She said that we understand our connection to the world, and are proud to participate as global citizens. She called this a “remarkable and heartwarming honor,” and said that we share “brotherhood and neighborliness in this volatile world.”

Then deputy mayor Adèle Hommet said that her town wants to ensure that the room “lives up to the spirit of Charlotte MacLear who, as a schoolteacher with a determination to promote international relations, as well as her receptiveness toward all of our citizens whom she met, marked her as an exceptional person.”

She added that she hopes Westport and Marigny students can meet and learn from each other.

… and 1st Selectwoman Jennifer Tooker.

Remarks came too from René Gautier, who as a child benefited from Westporters’ kindness; Gilles Quinquenel, who recalled the dark days of World War II, and Philippe Gosselin, who recounted Franco-American relations going back to 1776.

He included Charlotte MacLear’s name on his roster of great Americans, right there with President Roosevelt, and Generals Eisenhower and Patton.

“Long live La Manche! Long live Normandy! Long live France, and long live the United States!” he said.

The ceremony concluded with Mayor Lemazurier wishing that Americans and French, on both sides of the Atlantic, can “come to the aid of the Ukrainian people in their moment of need, as we were over 75 years ago,” and Marigny’s representative in Parliament expressing the hope of meeting Tooker in France.

Then, saying “It’s not really goodbye; we’ll meet again,” the mayor introduced the final piece of music: “Auld Lang Syne.”

I was involved in some of the emails and phone calls between Marigny officials, and the 1st Selectwomen’s office. French officials asked me if Charlotte MacLear is still remembered fondly in Westport.

Perhaps a few people here still recall her name. In our sister town, our French friends will never forget her.

Marigny and Westport were united today, in red, white and blue.

FUN FACT: Westport has 2 other sister cities, according to Wikipedia: St. Petersburg, Russia and Yangzhou, China. Read the back stories here.

17 responses to “Merci, Marigny!

  1. Tom Anderson

    Great story. Didn’t know anything about this. We will visit next time we are in France.

  2. This is a warm story on a cool day in May. So nice that you find these treasures of memories hidden away and forgotten, to share with the community. A special remembrance that needs to be part of all of us in this fine town we call home.

  3. India van Voorhees

    C’est une histoire très touchant. Merci.

  4. Golda Villa

    I love this heart warming story. Thank you for reminding us of this history. I hope to visit Marigny some day.

  5. Anna-Liisa Nixon

    Our family hosted a student from Marigny in 1995 or 1996 and then I spent a couple weeks with her family there. It’s a really lovely town. It would be great to start up an exchange program again.

  6. May 8th being the celebration of the end of WW2, this story helps us, french citizens, remember and fully appreciate what the US did for us. In particular, Westport’s supporting Marigny is such a great example of this continuous mindset. Thank you.

  7. A.David Wunsch

    I had Miss MacLear for French 3 and French 4 at Staples in the period 1954-6. In French 4 I was the only boy in the class, and I enjoyed it.

  8. Bill Scheffler

    Lovely and meaningful story, Dan: thank you. I had Madame MacLear for French in 1964: one of the highlights of the semester was being invited to her house for a reception at which we were required to speak French, on pain of having the pain au chocolat pass us by.

  9. Matthew Forgotson

    What an amazing story!!! Thank you for sharing.

  10. Robin Scarella

    We were one of families to host the teacher, Madeleine Koziol who came with the children. Amazing to get to know each other especially during Passover/Easter the year they came. We became very close friends and visited Marigny and all of Normandy. Madeleine still shows visitors all around. So blessed.

  11. Elaine Marino

    I found an article on the website Ouest-France from August 2021, which contains a timeline of Westport’s connection to Marigny (e.g., in 1991, two amateur cyclists from Westport participated in the Duo Normand) and other interesting facts. The article mentions how the mayor of Marigny plans to reach out to the mayor of Westport and reconnect the two cities:

  12. Midge Deverin

    What a great and inspirational story. Than you Dan!

  13. Ian Freeman

    I don’t know how I was so lucky to be one of the three 8th grade students chosen to go to Marigny, but that experience was very pivotal in my life. I ended up convincing my parents to returning the following summer to meet ma famille francais and we stayed in their beautiful farm house just outside of town. Their name was the Paris family. Then we hosted the boy, Vincent, one of the following years when they sent students… (you can’t make this stuff up!). I continued in my love of France and all things French, and took classes at UConn for fun as a unfocused college student. I decided to double down, again without vision for why, and did a semester in Paris…where I met the woman who is now my wife! We didn’t get married until several years after returning from our college semester in France, but you can probably guess where we got married…. Yes, Normandy! And, who was there? Yes, Maman Paris et mon frere Vincent! We now live in a small agricultural town in Washington that reminds us of Normandy and talk about eventually returning…. Maybe for our 20th anniversary. That was an incredible experience that Marigny and Westport made possible. Yes, Merci, Marigny!

  14. mary schmerker

    OH thank you! brought tears to my eyes. I had Miss Mac Lear for French 2 in 1957. She was wonderful and inspiring. Please affirm that many of us remember her with great fondness. Miss MacLear taught us that there was w wider world out there and involvement was important. I know Westport will do what it can to aid the Ukrainians and I am involved here is investigating what we can do.

  15. Sally Palmer

    I also had Miss MacLear for French at Staples. My French teacher at Bedford Jr High, A. Wayne Ross was a regular summer visitor to Marigny. We made up gift boxes for him to deliver.

  16. Wonderful stories! Thank you all for posting. I spent five years in Paris in my early twenties so France will always be my second home.

  17. Mark Bachmann

    Fantastic, uplifting story. Things like this help hold our world together at a time when it seems to be falling apart.