Brigitte van den Hove- Smith, a face of French-American friendship
- e-Toile : Mrs. Brigitte van den Hove- Smith, after almost 40 years, you have worked tirelessly in the associative field. Why have you chosen to invest so heavily as a volunteer?
Brigitte van den Hove-Smith : It is because of atavism and the example my parents have set for me. During my childhood, I would help my parents in their volunteer missions in our community. This continued with scouting as well as joining Guides de France, then became Department Commissioner and finally International Comissioner and tutor for the the Association Mondiale des Guides et des Eclaireuses. Scouting allowed me to have a sense of citizenship and a feeling of being useful to others. The choice had already been made. It would be more of a vocation rather than an «investment».
- e-Toile : Thanks to your action and your engagement with numerous American soldiers who fought in World War II and who now reside in the Naples region, they are now decorated with the insignia of the Legion of Honor. Was it because of your participation in the organization of ceremonies for the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the landing on the shores of Normandy that you decided to create the committee for the presenting of the Legion of Honor to those who contributed to France’s liberation?
Brigitte van den Hove-Smith : Yes, along with other factors. In fact, it was a coincidence. My husband (who passed away in 1994) was a World War II veteran. Together we had organized a trip to France for the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) of D- Day in Normandy. This trip was a great success (despite his death some months ago). Meanwhile, I took care of veterans from the Air Force Base in Dover (Delaware) and it felt like the natural thing to do so when I arrived to Naples I continued to do the same.
That is when I was contacted by the Collier County Museum to participate with the French community in Naples for the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of D-Day.
It was very moving. About twenty veterans were present and we had invited them for an evening of sharing. Thus, I learned that the French authorities awarded the diploma «Thank You America» for American veterans. From then on, I begun to look for all those who had participated in the liberation of France during the second world war.
It was a meticulous and time consuming job but very moving, full of memories, sad and happy and sometimes with tears. I would like to thank the members of the French community of Naples, in particular, Jean- Michel and Jean- Marie Pech and the local French Alliance centers, which after hearing about this program, communicated with me to help me with more names.
I received a lot of help from the part of the Association of Veterans of Collier County Museum and from French people that helped organize ceremonies for diplomas and Legion of Honor. What an honor to honor them! Without these veterans we would probably not be !
- e-Toile :You are also President of the Circle of Francophone Friends of Naples. Can you describe to us the events and activities organized by this association as well as the Table française of Naples where you are also the co- founder?
Brigitte van den Hove-Smith :The Circle of Francophone Friends of Naples does not exist anymore, unfortunately, due to lack of responsibility. I was called to other duties with «,Daughters of the American Revolution,» and thus could not keep up with the two big responsibilities.
No one was found to « take over » so we had to « legally close » the association. It was then replaced, so to speak, by the Table Française founded with Anne Perard in 2008 and which permitted for us French and Francophones to get together and get to know each other.
It also allows American Francophones and Francophiles to speak French in a friendly environment. We offer a monthly lunch and dinner. Information is sent via e-mail. Anyone interested can register with aBiskot@me.com. Everyone is welcome under one condition : speak (or try to speak) the French language.
- e-Toile : Last April 13th, you received the insignia of the Chevalier in the order of the Legion of Honor. What does it mean for you to receive this recognition ?
Brigitte van den Hove-Smith : It is with humility and pride that I received the highest award from the French government.
Receiving this exceptional distinction from the French Republic allows me to thank the President of the Republic, Nicolas Sarkozy, who has inspired me profoundly. It is a great honor and also an encouragement to continue engaging in and working for the influence of France, not only on the United States, but also on the world where I had the chance to serve my fellow French citizens abroad and those who fought for France’s freedom. It was a great joy to receive this honor and at the same time as the veterans.
Finally, I would like to express my gratitude to the French community of Naples, as well as Mrs. Nicole Hirsh and Mr. Gael de Maisonneuve for the support and care they always showed during the events I organized, which reinforced the historic ties of our Franco- American friendship.
Article published Sept 19, 2012.