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‘No,’ my father answered, ‘I have a strong daughter’

‘No,’ my father answered, ‘I have a strong daughter’

Photographer:Fotograaf: archive Annemarie Penn-te Strake

Interview mayor of Maastricht

Annemarie Penn-te Strake (Helmond, 1953)/ mayor of Maastricht since 1 June 2015/ married to Olaf Penn, four sons (35, 33, 32, 30) from a previous marriage/ lives in Maastricht

Greatest misconception about Annemarie Penn - te Strake. Some people feel I am a hard and business-like person. I see it differently. When my first son was born, my father came to visit us in Noorbeek. I was breastfeeding and the maternity nurse came to see if everything was all right. ‘You have a very down-to-earth daughter,’ she said. ‘No,’ my father answered, ‘I have a strong daughter’. He meant: she is well balanced; there is a good balance between emotion and reason. Later on, I was once threatened when I was a judge and as a precautionary measure I couldn't go to work for a week. I received sweet cards from colleagues. One wrote: ‘You have such tremendous resilience.’ I felt it as a compliment, I can take a lot, don't scare easily, but that doesn't mean that my sensitivity is any less developed.

When was the last time you had to bite your tongue? Only yesterday evening during the city council meeting. Sometimes people say things in a clumsy way and the message just doesn't get across. If they were to say it a little differently, it would be more effective. But I am the chairperson and my role is not to help people find their words.

How long ago is it since you saw your parents? I can tell you exactly: my mother on 13 April 2014 and my father on 20 October 2013. Those were the days they died. They are my source. You realise at the moment of death: this is where I came from. They were great life buddies, friends, fantastic and special, intelligent people. My mother, who would have loved to have studied, fought for me to go to grammar school. She felt that I needed to develop myself properly, which was not a matter of course at that time. My father was a creative man, astute, sweet, who became a judge later on in life. My parents had a complicated marriage, not least because my father suffered from manic depression. It turned him inside himself; he became more and more of a hermit. My mother was very social, a family person, a night owl. The first two years of their marriage were the happiest, which was when they travelled across Australia. They were actually very much like gypsies. But from the moment when my father's distinguished mother bade them to come home, my father had to finish his law studies and start a career, they became unhappy, also with each other. They never divorced, even though they weren't well-matched.  

At home or in digs? In 1971 I went to study Law in Nijmegen. I lived in various places there. In 1973 my mother said: I'm moving into digs too, so she also moved to Nijmegen. Later on, after my divorce when I lived with my sons in Maastricht on the Looiersgracht, my mother said: I am coming to live near you. It turned out to be the same street. My father came at weekends.

Your character in five key words: optimistic, social, loves harmony, no nonsense, humour. Making jokes is the most important thing; it gets you a long way. The toughest? I am impatient, I want to see results. I am rather quick myself and when someone can't match my pace, well, I find that hard.

Retirement? Not for a long time yet. I will never - if I'm spared - stop working. At the end of my first term as a mayor (six years) I will be almost 68. After that I could continue for two more years if all parties agree. A judge also continues working until seventy. If I'm no longer a mayor when I'm 68, I will be doing something else. I dread to think of me just sitting on the sofa. I fear I would end up living in squalor and drinking too much.

I am a victim of heredity as far as my choice in work is concerned. First, I did what my father did: became a judge. We were both judges for a short while: he in Roermond and I in Maastricht. Now I'm doing what my mother's father did: he was the mayor of Deurne for twelve years. A year before my mother died she said: you should become mayor. I answered: no way, every man to his trade. But when I heard that Onno (Hoes, ed.) was leaving, friends said: you should do that. I thought about it, passed through a number of recruitment and selection agencies to be grilled about my motivation. I only wanted to become mayor of Maastricht. I love this city, had already lived here for 25 years, it is the most beautiful city in the world. After this I will do what my father's father did: become a director of a factory. I will set up a hotel or other kind of business; I think that would be fantastic.

The change from judge to mayor was a logical step. It was for me. It fits in well with my development, I feel like a fish in water. It used to be that a mayor was referred to as magistrate; there was a reason for that. In both cases you have to stand above the parties, processes have to be pure, you have to be able to weigh matters up well, take decisions and safeguard integrity. Transparency is important: an agreement is an agreement; rules are rules; that is the point of departure. And it has to be about the truth. I cannot work with people who tell lies or if the facts are not correct. You don't get anywhere without a good dose of persuasiveness and courage, was what I learned when I was Chief Prosecutor.

Greatest sorrow? [Thinking] That would actually be my divorce, the fact that the nest was broken. There was no other way, but it is still sad. I would have liked it to have been otherwise especially for the children. I don't blame myself; I was 23, young, naive and very much in love. We had some good years together but it didn't work in the end. I made a conscious decision to more or less raise my sons alone.

What is the media's fault? I don't think that is an interesting question. Fault is not a good word. I have a love-hate relationship with the media. Sometimes you benefit from them, sometimes they’re a nuisance. It is part of public life. They are of crucial importance to keeping a check on those in power; at the same time, not every reporter is an expert. The facts must be correct. If conclusions are drawn on the basis of incorrect facts, yes, then I am not happy.

Most important lesson in life: [Thinking] Maybe that a lot of things in life come good in the end. That you can have trust. And for those things that don't come good in the end, you have to practice at being accepting. Nothing happens by itself, you have to co-operate and use your common sense when you make decisions. So, for example, when a prince passes by on a white horse, check whether he is not just focused on his horse.

The mayor of Maastricht, Annemarie Penn-te Strake, is guest editor-in-chief of this week's Observant (5 March). That's why we have interviewed her.

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