Each year the Lord Provost of Dundee, Scotland, brings a group of Council Officers and members of the Sister City Committee to Alexandria for the Scottish Christmas Walk. This year, Scottish students were part of that delegation for the first time. They sat down with Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille and Dundee Lord Provost John Letford and asked them about their relationship and the future of exchanges between the two cities.
Richard Waghorn wanted to know how each politician felt when they visited their sister city. “I went to Dundee for the third time in September,” Euille said. “The thing that struck me about this visit was that I really felt like I was at home. The people were warm and friendly and I really felt like I was a Dundee resident.”
Letford agreed. “I would rather travel the nine thousand miles to be in Alexandria than hundreds of miles to be someplace else,” he said. “The warmth and the love that we feel from the people of Alexandria make me want to come back again and again. Now I’m sure that part of that is because of the Scottish heritage on which the city was built, but nevertheless it is like coming home for us too.”
The six students had an opportunity to visit many places in Alexandria while they were here. A. Melvin Miller, chairman of the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority, gave them a tour of The Berg and the Ladray Senior High-rise, which is also operated by ARHA. Miller talked to them about public housing and about people who have lived in public housing, including Alexandria’s current mayor.
“We have learned a lot about how Mayor Euille grew up and about his background but interestingly enough, we don’t know much about our own lord provost. I’d like to now a little more about him,” said Daniel Adams.
Like Euille, Letford grew up in a household where parents were not together. “Life was not extremely difficult but I did miss being part of a family with a mother and father and sisters and brothers in the same household and I moved around as many children with estranged parents do,” he said. “The biggest regret that I have is that I was not born a Dundonian. I really envy you youngsters who can say ‘I am Dundee born and bred’ because I will never be able to say that.”
Euille talked about his motivation to move from public housing to college to owning his own business to being mayor. “The key was the drive to have a better lifestyle and better quality of life for me and my family,” he said. “I was driven to get the best education I could to succeed. I was the first child in my family ever to go off to college and I figured that would be the key to open the door to enable me to come back home, to become gainfully employed and to take care of my family.
“I got my degree and when I came back home, we lived in public housing for two more years and then I bought my first townhouse, where I lived until three years ago,” Euille said.
Lila Clements asked about similarities between students from Dundee and those at T.C. Williams. “What I noticed was that there really are no differences,” Euille said. “Despite the fact that the kids at T.C. represent 90 different countries and look like a small United Nations, you are all really the same. You really are the key to achieving international peace and promoting race relations. What I witnessed when you students from Dundee went to T.C. Williams is that one of the greatest way to promote real understanding and instant report is through music — song and dance.”
Last year, Letford spent time in a senior government class at T.C. talking to students there. “When I visited with the T.C. youngsters, I was struck by the fact that they were prepared to go on to bigger and better things,” Letford said. “They had a spokesperson who really put us on the spot and we deserved to be put on the spot. He questioned why we did this and why we did that. It came upon me that the teachers were doing a magnificent job because here was a young man who was speaking his mind and not saying ‘yes, sir’ or ‘no, sir.’ He was saying one word — why? I thought that was absolutely brilliant in spite of how uncomfortable I might have been as an adult to be asked questions. I was delighted with that and thought that the kids at T.C. Williams were being developed in the proper way.”
Letford was a youth leader in Dundee for 30 years before becoming a politician. “The youth of my city and of Alexandria are the key to the future,” he said. “I am 100 percent behind the youth of the city. The future is in the hands of the young people themselves. Education is the key.”
Sister City relationships are often largely ceremonial. The hardest questions for the two leaders to answer was the last one asked. “Everyone everywhere in the world has problems,” said Gordon Massie. “Looking through the public housing program here today and knowing the one in Dundee, there is poverty and some of it can be extreme. You have said that education is a priority through the twinning of our two cities but I was wondering if there’s any way through the exchange that we can deal with other problems such as poverty and division among communities. What is the way forward there?”
Letford responded first. “This week we have taken a major step because we have taken with us to Alexandria the six of you. In April, Bill will bring at least six young people from Alexandria to Dundee. The future is up to you,” he said.
Euille agreed. “Whether it is in Dundee or in Alexandria, where you see divisions, you need to try to bridge the gap between the haves and the have not,” he said. “We have twinning on an international level with Dundee but we also need to look to twinning within our own communities — people who have needed to help those who do not. And John is right. The future is in your hands. You need to take these ideas and move them forward in your own community and in the exchange.”
The six Scottish students performed “Side by Side” by Stephen Sondheim at the Lee Center on Thursday night. More than 100 Alexandrians gave them a standing ovation.
They rounded out the week with a tour of the U.S. Capitol with Virginia Congressman James Moran (D-8th) and shopping at a mall.
“Just when we are having fun and are adjusted to life here, we have to leave,” Richard said.
They went home last Saturday after participating in the Scottish Christmas Walk. They took many new friendships and wonderful memories with them and left behind many others.