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.”
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eight decades after D-Day, war is still with us.
So, we hope, is our willingness to help.