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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.