Lucky meeting sparked link

Nicolson pupils prepare to head for America in 2004.
Nicolson pupils prepare to head for America in 2004.

STORNOWAY and Pendleton have been twinned now for 20-years but the link actually came about courtesy of a one in a million chance meeting at a conference in Washington DC.

It was there that the foundation stones for two decades of friendship were set before being nurtured and cultivated through the years by dedicated staff on both sides of the sea.

The most recent visit to Stornoway by American guests in November.

The most recent visit to Stornoway by American guests in November.

“It really was a lucky chance which created the link,” explained former Pendleton Mayor Carol Burdette with a smile during her most recent visit to the isles in November.

“A lady named Jane Cahaly went to a conference in Washington DC with the state department of education and met some folks from Stornoway and began conversing.

“It was just a chance meeting which blossomed into this remarkable friendship and the people that come here from Pendleton just fall in love with the place.

“When I came over in 1995 I was with the town council and I promised that if I ever got elected mayor we would have a sister city. We began working on that in 1999 and the Convener and Chief Executive were very supportive. We had a wonderful

twinning ceremony.

“This marks my seventh trip and I hope it won’t be my last. We encourage anyone to come to Pendleton, even not in a group, as we will take care of you.”

Burdette, who served two terms as Pendleton Mayor, has worked tirelessly to develop the link across the Atlantic, so much so, that her efforts have been rewarded with a permanent and iconic tribute in Stornoway, her adopted home from home.

But it was during a moment of deep sadness and tragedy that Ms Burdette first felt most connected to Stornoway and when she realised the bond between the two towns had become more deep rooted than she had realised.

“The one thing that really got me was right after this began the principle at Pendleton High School passed away in an accident,” she recalled solemnly.

“I remember this was right before I became mayor and taking a phone call to tell me that the Macdonald’s, Donald and Janette, were going to be with us for lunch that day as they were coming for Mr Cunningham’s funereal.

“Obviously I knew at this moment it was not fly-by-night, it was important, and the people had grown to love each other.

“On a personal note my most memorable moment was when I was presented with my bench over by the water mill. What a testimony to have that kind of love and I visited it again on this trip and I guilted the students to come see it too.”

Ms Burdette is no longer mayor but she remains a staunch supporter of the exchange programme and she is convinced it remains in good hands.

“There is a commitment, I’m no longer the mayor but I wanted to come back to see the friends I’ve made and the group here. With the school and the director of education here there is a true commitment to keep it continuing.”

PENDLETON High School geography teacher Ann Margaret Chastain was one of the first to make the trip over the pond to Stornoway and it is a journey she has now made four times. “It really has been different every time I’ve been over,” she began.

“I’ve seen a lot of different things and met new people as well as catching up with old friends too – but it is always wonderful.

“I think the link between the two towns is extremely important and it is something I will definitely work at keeping going as it is so valuable to both sides.

“The relationships that are built become life-long friendships and many students keep in touch with their hosts many years later and you can’t put a price on things like that so it’s too valuable to ever stop now.”

Like the others on both school’s fundraising and organising committee’s she confesses to increasing difficulties in putting the trip together.

“It is getting harder but not because people don’t want to do it but because of the economy which has had a huge impact,” she explained.

“I think we have to work harder now to get things accomplished but the reception of the people is as strong as ever.

“I was involved through the school and I felt it would be such a wonderful thing so I jumped right in and started hosting.”

Looking ahead to next year and the 20th anniversary of the link Ms Chastain is hoping the occasion will be marked in a style fitting to the past two decades.

“Hopefully we can mark the 20th anniversary as we have a lot of ideas and were trying to decide whether to celebrate it on the 20th year of when the first adult groups travelled over or the first student group a year later which would give us more time to plan,” she added.

“I definitely wouldn’t want to just throw everything together and maybe more time to plan would be better.”