A Gift From Marigny

Last spring, officials in the French town of Marigny gave Westport a great honor.

In a ceremony that included — via Zoom — 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker, our sister city across the sea named a room in their Town Hall for Charlotte MacLear.

She was the head of the French department at Staples High School. A graduate of prestigious Sorbonne Université, in the years after World War II she led a campaign for Westport to “adopt” Marigny-le-Lozon, and help its recovery.

The relationship had its roots during the war itself. Right after D-Day, 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.

Sparked by MacLear a year later, our town sent clothes, money and Christmas gifts.

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

“Pharmacie Westport,” in Marigny.

We forgot the relationship. Marigny never did.

But 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 marveilleux!

In the years since, many Westporters forgot again about Marigny. But our sister city never forgot about us.

The relationship was rekindled last May. Now our French friends have given us another gift.

After “Salle Charlotte MacLear” was christened, René Gauthier — who as a child benefited from Westporters’ kindness — and other residents created a book.

The cover of the Marigny book.

Its 43 pages document, in French and English. the 78-year relationship between the towns. A copy has been sent to 1st Selectwoman Tooker.

It describes the history of Marigny, from its first written reference in the 10th century (!), through the 100 Years’ War, French Revolution, Napoleonic Era, and the terrifying days of World War II.

It relates Westport’s history too. Ours is far shorter. But photos of the Minute Man Monument, Town Hall and the Saugatuck River show that the book’s creators definitely did their homework.

The text and archival images capture every highlight of our relationship. A particularly poignant page notes that every Christmas for 17 years, Westporters sent 200 to 300 packages of toys and gifts to Marigny. Every one was inscribed with the name of an individual child.

Many residents kept them for years. Some are now exhibited in the Charlotte MacLear Room.

Westport also helped rebuild Marigny’s Catholic church. The book notes that the project was initiated by a member of Westport’s Unitarian congregation.

There are reports too of Westporters’ visits to the French town in 1994, and the reciprocal trip here afterward.

There are also photos and accounts of the May 8 Charlotte MacLear ceremony.

The book that is so much about the past ends with an idea for the future. What if, it asks in 2 languages, the people of Marigny and Westport come together again — to help build a Ukrainian school?

It is a marvelous idea. “06880” is ready to help. If anyone wants to work on this project — or knows an organization that might take it on — click comments, or email 06880blog@gmail.com.

Eight decades after D-Day, war is still with us.

So, we hope, is our willingness to help.

13 responses to “A Gift From Marigny

  1. What a wonderful story to share…especially around this time of year…who knew?
    Thanks for the post.

  2. I got goosebumps reading this, what a wonderful example of how acts of kindness ripple out into the world. Is it possible to get a copy of the book? Perhaps it could be a fundraiser for the Ukraine project (if that idea is taken up). Either way, how amazing that this little town has had such a lasting impact half way across the world. Adding Marigny to future travel plans! Thank you for such an uplifting story this morning.

  3. Great uplifting story. I think it would be good also to have a project such as exchanging letters – French classes at high school could send students there letters, a sort of old fashioned pen pal group. I could help facilitate/set up.

  4. Priscilla A Long

    Thanks for a great story on Marigny, Dan. Another piece of this story is that two other Westporters, my late husband, Dan Long, and former native Westporter, Jon Walker, also traveled to Marigny representing Westport in the late 1980’s. Jon was an RTM rep at the time and had heard about an opportunity to go to Marigny as Westport representatives and participate in a bicycle race – the Duo Normand, held annually in Marigny. This race is a two-man time trial, so Jon asked Dan to team up with him. They packed up their bicycles and set off! It turned out to be a trip of a lifetime for both of them. One stayed with the Marigny Mayor and the other with the Pharmacist. Jon and Dan were the lead team of the race and started it off with great gusto! Unfortunately, they were also the slowest of the bunch and came in dead last! This trip formed a bond of friendship between them that was never broken, and at Dan’s memorial in 2019, Jon spoke about their amazing adventure. Marigny touched both of their hearts and they remained in touch with the friends they made there for several years. This story made me smile – I am so glad that the Marigny/Westport bond is revitalizing!

  5. Dan, Ukrainian School Support… lets get this going! How can I help? FYI I speak Ukrainian
    “If Russia stops fighting, there will be no war. If Ukraine stops fighting, there will be no more Ukraine.”

  6. Tom Duquette, SHS '75

    I will say this about the French, to this day they still are supremely grateful for the sacrifice made by so many Allied soldiers so that they could regain their freedom from Nazi tyranny.

    A few years ago I took a military history tour that followed the war of Easy Company made famous in the miniseries & book “Band of Brothers” and we started in Normandy. The popularity of the miniseries and the film “Saving Private Ryan” have made military tourism a bit of a cottage industry for the area and there are many, many museums and memorials to see.

    My expectation was to see mostly a bunch of American tourists at these sites but to my surprise there plenty of French citizens young and old visiting them as well. I swear there are more American flags flying in French towns at private homes then you see here, Union Jacks too, it is astonishing.

    Almost every little village has it’s own carefully preserved U.S. Sherman tank in the town square or entrance; they are perfectly painted and have maintained. I’m not surprised that Marigny has not forgotten about Westport at all.

  7. A wonderful story. Nice piece from Priscilla about Dan and Jon participating in the bike race there. Great guys. I would be interested in getting involved in a project connected to raising funds for a school. Also planning a trip to Normandy in the spring so we might be able to visit Marigny.

    • Thanks to all who have expressed an interest in working on a Ukrainian school project with Marigny. I will get in touch with everyone this weekend. On we go!

  8. In the 1950’s while at Bedford Jr High and Staples, gifts for Marigny were an ongoing project. My Frech teacher, A. Wayne Ross, visited there every summer. Partnering with Marigny to build a school in Ukraine is a brilliant idea. I’d also love to get a copy of that book.

  9. mary lou cookman

    So wonderful to read this and remember my Staples French Teacher, Miss MacLear and the support of Marigny. Supporting their efforts with Ukraine is brilliant.

  10. I well remember my parents pulling together an aid package to send to Marigny after WWII. I was a student of Wayne Ross back in the day, too! I hope the good people of Westport get together on the aid for Ukraine project.