By James Lomuscio
Under sunny skies and with many flags of the United Nations’s 193 member countries billowing on Westport’s Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge, about 300 U.N. ambassadors, delegates, staff and their families converged on the Saugatuck Elementary School today for the town’s 48th annual jUNe Day to commemorate the signing of the U.N. Charter in 1945.
Bill Haas of Westport, president of the U.N. Association of Southwestern Connecticut, welcomes guests at today’s jUNe Day ceremony at Saugatuck Elementary School. Listening are (l-r) Westport First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, Patricia O’Brien, U.N. Under-Secretary General for Legal Affairs, and Ambassador and U.N. Under-Secretary General Joseph V. Reed. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com
Patricia O’Brien of Ireland, the U.N.‘s Under-Secretary General for Legal Affairs, was the keynote speaker, noting that she was amazed when she learned the event was being held in Westport.
“In Ireland we have a Westport, and we see our Westport as a very special place,” she said. “In fact, last year it was voted the best place to live in Ireland, so there’s a great synergy.”
O’Brien said that driving around Westport today, she, too, could envision moving to town.
Westport First Selectman Gordon Joseloff welcomed the guests, asking for a show of hands for first-time visitors. About 100 indicated they had not been here before.
“You do not need a special invitation to come to Westport,” Joseloff said, noting that the town of 27,000 is “internationally minded” and has a number of international residents. “We are only a one-hour train ride from New York.”
Joseloff said this was his eighth and last opportunity to welcome guests as first selectman since he is not seeking re-election in the fall. He said he was sure the person who succeeded him would be just as supportive of jUNe Day as he has been.
Republican First Selectman candidate Jim Marpe was among Westporters in the audience, greeting the guests.
Westport First Selectman Gordon Joseloff presents a gift from the people of Westport to Patricia O’Brien, U.N. Under-Secretary General for Legal Affairs, at today’s jUNe Day ceremony at Saugatuck Elementary School. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com
Westporter Bill Hass, president of the U.N. Association (UNA) of Southwestern Connecticut, also welcomed the guests.
On a personal note, he said that he had been living in Westchester, N.Y. years ago when he worked as communications coordinator for the United Nations. Hass said he discovered Westport when he attended his first jUNe Day and decided to move to town.
John Reed, ambassador and Under-Secretary General, also lauded the town, paying special tribute to the late Ruth Steinkraus Cohen who established the annual event in 1965.
“Ruth’s mission was to promote an understanding of global isues and to promote global understanding through hospitality,” Reed said.
Hospitality was the operative word, as attendees were picked up at the train station, bused to the school, offered breakfast, greeted by local officials including state Sen. Toni Boucher and state Reps. Gail Lavielle, and Jonathan Steinberg, and presented with a day of activities choreographed by jUNe Day Chairperson Michaela Maccoll.
U.N. guests line up for breakfast today at the jUNe Day reception at Saugatuck Elementary School. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com
The day boasted myriad sporting, recreational and cultural events, including: a soccer match between the U.N. team and the Westport Knights; a tennis tournament and a day of golf at the Longshore Golf Course; and tours of historic Westport, as well Earthplace. Also included was a visit to the WakemanTown Farm and free access to the Compo Beach and Longshore Park’s town pools.
Bill Meyer, a member of the Representative Town Meeting, had volunteered his services for the day as a tour guide around town. Myer said he was pleased he was pleased he would be showing Westport to a woman from Turkey and another one from Singapore.
O’Brien, who had served as legal adviser to the Department of Foreign Affairs of Ireland since 2003, and has investigated human rights violltions, even worked on the prosecution of those involved in the Rwandan genocide, read a sobering letter from UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon of South Korea.
“jUNe day is a brief respite from your efforts to address grave problems on the international agenda,” Ki-moon worte, noting that 93,000 people have been killed in Syria alone over the past two years. “The United Nations has been entrusted with responding to poverty, conflicts, human rights violations and other global threats.
“Each of you plays an essential role in our response,” he added. “I hope that today will be an inspiring reminder of the importance of our work and the solidarity of colleagues with whom we are privileged to serve.”