Medford and Alba were able to celebrate a half century of friendship thanks to many people on both sides of the connection but two special people stand out for their dedication, passion and years of service. Pina Toppino and Liz Smith were the heads of their cities’ sister city committees for almost half of the fifty years. In spite of the distance between the two cities, Pina and Liz worked together as a team coordinating programs and events for more than two decades. They became great friends and had frequent opportunities to meet in Alba and Medford.
Pina’s involvement goes back to the earliest days of the “gemellaggio” of the two cities. From 1972 until 1975 her husband Giangiacomo Toppino was Mayor of Alba and, as Alba’s first lady, she devoted much of her time to furthering the bond between the two cities. She not only organized events and programs but, in the typical manner of the Albese, she opened her home to perfect strangers traveling from Medford.
In 1992 she joined Liz Smith and her co-chair, Nancy Collins, for the celebration five hundredth anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of America in Washington, D.C. Liz and Nancy traveled to Alba on that occasion and cemented a friendship that typifies the special connection between Medford and Alba.
In 2003 Pina and Gianni traveled to Medford for the Festa Italian in Jacksonville where she represented the City of Alba and promoted the products and tourism of the Langhe and, as always, made more friends for Alba. For hours on end Pina manned the Alba booth on the streets of Jacksonville dispensing samples of Alba’s products and the charm that will always be Pina’s signature gift
Pina’s dedication and charm attracted people on both sides of the exchange to become involved in sister city programs. Her entire family has been at the center of sister city activities in Alba and a third generation of her family is ready to follow in her footsteps. Fittingly, her years of promoting international understanding did not go unrecognized by the Italian government. She was named a Knight of the Republic.
Like many members of the Medford-Alba Sister City Association, Liz Smith’s involvement began with the participation of her daughters Kim and Carrie in two of the earlier student exchanges. In 1989 She and fellow student exchange parent, Nancy Collins, took over the leadership in Medford and began to build on a connection that had already endured more than twenty-five years. In addition to countless hours of hard work, Liz brought a wide network of friends an acquaintances to help build the program.
Liz and Nancy participated in the 1992 quincentennial celebration of Columbus’s discovery of America. They joined their counterpart, Pina Toppino, in Washington D.C. and later arrived in Alba for the Truffle Festival.
Under Liz’s leadership, the student exchanges have become the centerpiece of sister city activities and Liz selflessly has dedicated herself to the success of the program. Every other year, students from local high schools compete to be selected as ambassadors to Alba. Selection to the highly competitive program is an achievement that the best and brightest students proudly add to their résumés.
For Liz, the inbound component of the student exchange has also been a labor of love. Liz has always managed to attract willing and welcoming host families to ensure the very best experience for our young Italian guests. Liz has always been at the forefront organizing events, arranging for transportation and personally welcoming Alba’s student ambassadors.
In 2010 Liz’s leadership was instrumental in organizing the fiftieth anniversary celebration in Medford. The events over several days were perfect demonstrations of Medford’s love for Alba and the one time we came close to matching Alba’s marvelous hospitality.
Liz has been an excellent ambassador to Alba and led the Medford delegation to both the fortieth and fiftieth anniversary celebrations in Alba. Like her Alba counterpart Pina, Liz has always been willing to open her home to visitors from Alba. She and her husband Stephen are regular travelers to Alba, and like Pina, have a third generation waiting to be part of our special relationship with Alba.
After twenty-two years as president of Medford’s committee, Liz has decided to step back and let new leadership build on her accomplishments. She wants to continue her involvement as a board member and to share her knowledge and experience from more than two decades of service.
Pina and Liz will be missed as leaders of the program but their passion for the program will continue to be at the heart of a special connection that is truly all about people.