A second grant campaign in honor of Marie-Sol de La Tour d'Auvergne, President Emeritus, is also being launched. In the elegant living room of her left-bank apartment in Paris, Marie-Sol sat down with Karen Archer to express what this tribute and her years at French Heritage Society mean to her. Surrounded by family photos, a number of finely carved pipes belonging to her late husband, her eclectic art collection, and a bust of Colbert - an ancestor - a sense of history on a grand scale is intertwined with more private memories. Today Marie-Sol, as a founding member of the Fondation des Parcs et Jardins de France, remains very active in promoting French gardens around the world, including those at her beloved Château d’Ainay le Vieil. She has recently been instrumental in helping to set up an association for the preservation of historic gardens in Russia.
She recalls, "In 1982 I met Michele le Menestrel-Ullrich. This was the beginning of an exceptional adventure which gave me the opportunity to share my love of heritage beyond the borders of France, in a way I never would have imagined”. Marie-Sol served as President of the association from 1993 to 2008. Under her leadership it continued to prosper and changed its name to French Heritage Society in 2002 after becoming partners with La Demeure Historique and Le Comité des Parcs et Jardins de France (in addition to its historic partnership with Les Vieilles Maisons Françaises.)
“It has been fascinating to live part of my life traveling between France and the United States. Jefferson said, ‘every man has two countries - his own and France.’ I would say it the other way around. I have two countries, France and the United States because I really fell in love with that country. I love the people – many acquaintances have become great friends now. I love the country which is very beautiful. And I love the fact that I could promote the image of France in the United States. That was absolutely fascinating. Not only did we raise funds for projects in France, but also for many projects in the United States. The projects at the French colonial town of Sainte Genevieve in Missouri and in Louisiana after Katrina have always been very dear to my heart.”
As historic preservation has always been a part of her life, Marie-Sol was touched by the campaigns in honor of her and Michèle. She will lend her patronage to the campaign to raise funds for the Château de Saint Géry, located between Toulouse and Albi, a beautiful part of France. "It is an extremely elegant château,” she remarks. “Originally, it was a fortress on the Tarn, which was partially rebuilt in the 17th and 18th centuries. At that time, we used brick, so it has a beautiful pink color like many buildings in the region.” It is the château’s imposing brick facade overlooking the Tarn which is in need of restoration. Marie-Sol, who knows the château well, continues, “Inside the château, on the ground floor and first floor, are an impressive series of wonderfully decorated rooms. The family is remarkable, with three generations coming together to preserve and to support Saint Géry. It is really a family home, lived in and shared. The Château de Saint-Gery could be a museum, but it has remained a home, in the same family for centuries. This explains the warm atmosphere that you feel there.”
Regarding the Trip to Gascony as part of French Heritage Society’s 30th Anniversary Celebration, she enthusiastically offers, “I am pleased to receive you as my guests for lunch at the château which belongs to my late husband’s family. It has a spectacular view facing the Pyrenees, in Lauragais, not far from Toulouse. I hope to have other members of my family join us as well.”
After this lunch the inaugural dinner for the trip will be held at the Château de Saint-Géry. “Then you will understand why I want to raise funds for this project, and will ask you to help me in that endeavor [to raise funds for Saint Géry]. It is very important, because that family, as we always tell you, and you will certainly realize that if you come, is really doing all that they can to maintain that château. Upkeep is extremely costly, as we all know. So contribute your stone, contribute your brick to help the Château de Saint Géry. That would be wonderful and the best possible tribute that I can imagine. After all, this is what has motivated me for most of my life – to share and preserve the values that I grew up with, that all these beautiful châteaux throughout France represent. They are not only our ancestral homes, our history, our roots, our anchor, but also the work of a civilization that strives to attain beauty, a sense of permanence and timeless values embodied in stone. ”