What started as a grass-roots effort a few years ago is now official.
In front of a packed assembly room, Matthews Mayor Jim Taylor and Sainte-Maxime, France, Mayor Vincent Morisse recently signed two sets of documents – in French and English – to formally seal the Sister City relationship between the two towns before adjourning to Sante Restaurant for an after-signing celebration.
The signing capped a whirlwind, six-day tour by Morisse and seven other Sainte-Maxime elected officials and residents.
The group explored Matthews and other local areas, attended a Charlotte Knights baseball game, ate smoked pork barbecue for the first time, experienced an American-style cookout, toured Matthews town hall, Elizabeth Lane Elementary School, Crestdale Middle School, the NASCAR Hall of Fame and attended a Matthews Rotary Club meeting.
Morisse said the trip solidified his perception America.
“For us coming here, we have a vision of the traditional America, and that vision is the Main Street in Matthews. I really like the Main Street and I really like Renfrow Hardware. I also enjoyed going to the schools. They sang us a song in French and we sang each other’s national anthems,” Morisse said.
While the two towns are an ocean apart, Matthews Sister City co-director Ed Dement said it’s a natural relationship that began at the end of the second World War.
“On Aug. 15, 1944, the second Allied invasion, with 170,000 troops, mostly American, landed on the shores of Sainte-Maxime,” he said. Twenty-six hundred Americans lost their lives over the next eights days, but the South of France was liberated from the Nazi occupation and the people of Sainte-Maxime have never forgotten.
Morisse said they celebrate the Fourth of July, American Thanksgiving and have a restored Sherman tank on display on their beach.
“We love America and we love the American people. We will never forget all the sacrifices the young Americans made to bring freedom back to France 70 years ago,” Morisse said.
Matthews Mayor Jim Taylor said he and his wife, Jocelyn, are hoping to visit France soon, and Morisse says he’s hoping many more trips will follow.
“This is, for us, the real America with lovely people. I hope we will have many visiting friends in Sainte-Maxime, and I hope that many more will come to Matthews as well,” Morisse said.
The official Sister City program was started in 1956, during the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration, with a vision of promoting peace and prosperity by creating bonds between people from different cities around the world.
“Eisenhower did not want to see another World War. He thought if we got to know one another and thought of ourselves as sisters, then we would not go to war,” said co-director Barbara Dement.
“God made a very big world, and it’s our responsibility to get to know one another. Then we will be fulfilling the Sister City mission ‘to promote peace through mutual respect, understanding and cooperation – one individual, one community at a time.’”
Melinda Johnston is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Melinda? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.