Ms. Brigitte van den Hove-Smith, known for her volunteer engagement throughout Florida [fr]
e-Toile: Brigitte van den Hove-Smith, good morning and thank you for participating in this column marking the 30th anniversary of this consulate.
When you arrived in Naples, which is located on the west coast of Florida, what activities did you take over?
Brigitte van den Hove-Smith: When I arrived in Naples in 2002, I created the first organization dedicated to serve the French community: the Naples French Gourmet Club. At that time, I was also involved in the committees in charge of the organization of the ceremonies commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Normandy Landings. In April 2005, I had the opportunity to take part in the creation of the Naples/Fort Myers’ chapter of the French-American Chamber of Commerce.
From 2001 to 2006, I was also the President of the “Union des Français de l’Etranger” of Naples, and in 2009, I was the Regent of the Big Cypress’ chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. When I lived in other parts of the world such as Kenya, Saudi Arabia, and Austria, I always kept strong ties with France. I did exactly the same upon my arrival in Naples, Florida.
- e-Toile: Could you describe to us the French community and the broader francophone community in the Naples area of the 90’s as well as the community today?
Brigitte van den Hove-Smith: The Francophone community of Naples/Ft Myers has evolved a lot in 20 years.
From a handful of businessmen, the community became a large and diverse group of restaurant owners, real estate agents, retirees, and entrepreneurs thanks to the Internet.
- e-Toile: As the President of the board of the Friends of Collier County Museums, you have participated in events celebrating the 450 years of the French presence in Florida. What are the other cultural and historical events you were associated with throughout these years?
Brigitte van den Hove-Smith: Yes, indeed, in 2012 we celebrated the arrival of Jean Ribault in Florida. In 2013, we held events with the museums of Collier County, as part of VIVA FLORIDA 500, which marked the creation of Florida by Ponce de Leon, events that were organized in the presence of the Consuls and Representatives of the State.
In 2014, with the support of the France Florida Foundation for the Arts (FFFA) and the University of Florida (UF), there was also the great success of the exhibition “The French in Florida” showcasing the engravings of Theodore de Bry.
And 2015 was the year of the Hermione, the fabulous replica of the ship that Lafayette was commanding to cross the Atlantic in order to help George Washington! To support this fantastic trip to the United States in 2015, we set up a tour of a great exposition called “Lafayette and the historic trip of the Hermione” with the participation of the FFFA and the Consulate General of France in Miami.
Notice that there is also a “Francophile exhibition” being prepared that could take shape in 2017!
- e-Toile: For nearly 15 years, you were also helping American World War II soldiers to be distinguished by France. Do you know how many amongst them you have supported and how many awards ceremonies you have co- organized with the Consulate?
Brigitte van den Hove-Smith: I could find and interview approximately 180 World War II veterans. It was engaging and also very moving. With the help of the Naples’ French community, the Collier County Museums and of course the instrumental participation of the Consulate General of France in Miami, I organized so far close to twenty ceremonies in Naples.
- e-Toile: During all these years, what was or which were the French-American events in Florida that have marked you the most?
Brigitte van den Hove-Smith: The creation of the France Florida Foundation for the Arts (FFFA) was a particularly memorable moment, as well as all the events that we already mentioned.
- e-Toile: Finally, if you have an event to recommend to those who know little about your area, which would it be?
Brigitte van den Hove-Smith: Every year, during the first weekend of December, there is "The Old Florida Festival” brought by the Collier county museums of Naples. This year it will be on November 19 and 20. This is a great opportunity to learn about the history of Florida, from the Spanish era to the present. These are two days which are open to all in order to learn while having fun.
In order to pursue these historical discoveries, I invite your readers to travel to St Augustine and visit the Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest fort built by the Spaniards on the mainland of what is the United States today. I will also propose them to stop by the column of Jean Ribault located North of Jacksonville before heading to Fort Caroline to tour the French stronghold that was rebuild in 1964 and is by the river, the centerpiece of the Fort Caroline National Memorial.On the artistic side, even if it is not in South-western Florida, I would like to mention, the famous Art Basel Miami fair taking place in Miami early December.
On April 13th, 2012 Ms. van den Hove -Smith was awarded the insignia of Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in Naples, Florida for her outstanding achievements.