By Maria Saporta
Friday, December 3, 2010
The romantic history between Toulouse, France, and the city of Atlanta is being reignited during the France-Atlanta 2010 event taking place between Nov. 29 and Dec. 12.
The two weeks of scientific, business, cultural and humanitarian events were organized by the Consulate General of France in Atlanta and Georgia Tech.
Although the current mayor of Toulouse, Pierre Cohen, couldn’t come at the last minute, a large delegation from the French city visited with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed at Atlanta City Hall on Nov. 29.
Atlanta and Toulouse have a sister-city bond sealed by a three-generation love story.
Back in 1933, Irene “Renie” Dobbs went to Toulouse to study French. Her beau was Maynard Jackson, who followed her to Toulouse to court her.
The two were married in the Toulouse City Hall — Capitole — in the beautiful Hall of the Illustrious. One of their children was Maynard Jackson Jr., who became the first African-American mayor of Atlanta.
Years later, after her husband died, Renie Jackson returned to Toulouse to continue her study of French, bringing a couple of her younger children to live with her. Maynard Jackson Jr., who was older, did spend time in Toulouse on extended visits, when he became conversationally fluent in French.
So when Jackson became mayor in 1973, it made perfect sense for Toulouse to become one of Atlanta’s first international sister cities. Jackson and Toulouse Mayor Pierre Baudis signed the Sister City Proclamation on Dec. 17, 1974.
But the love story continued.
In 1993, during his third term as Atlanta’s mayor, Jackson and his wife, Valerie, went back to Toulouse, where they renewed their marriage vows in the same hall where his parents were married. They had been married 16 years.
And then came the third generation. After the former mayor passed away, his daughter, Valerie-Amanda, became engaged to her boyfriend in the very same Toulouse City Hall.
Leading the delegation to Atlanta during France-Atlanta 2010 was Kader Arif, adviser to the mayor of Toulouse for international relations.
Both Reed and Arif pledged to renew the sister city ties between Atlanta and Toulouse — including building a stronger business and civic relationship between the two cities.
Arif said he was particularly interested in learning more about Atlanta’s Beltline project and its “tramway” project, as well as the city’s legacy in civil and human rights.
“Atlanta has a lot to teach us,” said Arif, who added that every year Toulouse high school students compete for the Martin Luther King Jr. prize, in which they are able to come to Atlanta for several weeks.
“I do believe there’s a great deal we can share,” said Reed, who suggested that he would love to see Atlanta students spend time in Toulouse. “There’s no question we would welcome a focus on Toulouse and France. That way, it would be an exchange rather than a one-way relationship.”
Both agreed that modern diplomacy can’t just be between federal governments, but between cities. Toulouse, the fourth most populous city in France with 750,000 residents, is the space and technology center of Europe with the presence of such major companies as Aerospatiale, Alcatel and Airbus.
“We must absolutely relaunch and re-energize the relationship,” Arif said.
“I want to make sure the relationship does not remain stagnant,” Reed agreed. “We must figure out how we are going to partner, to give real life to the relationship.”
Reed also told Arif that he was committed to enhancing the city of Atlanta’s international relationships, including its ties to Toulouse.
The former mayor’s widow, Valerie Jackson, remembered Toulouse with fondness.
“I would love to see a reinvigorated relationship, not only because of my history with Toulouse, but for both cities,” she said. “Toulouse itself is absolutely beautiful with its rose-colored buildings. It is just an exceptionally beautiful part of the world.”