Penpals sign up for a lifetime

Maureen Johnson, left, 74 and Theresa Kowall, 75, celebrated 65 years of writing to each other this

Maureen Johnson, left, 74 and Theresa Kowall, 75, celebrated 65 years of writing to each other this year. - Credit: Archant

Pair mark 65 years of long-distance letters

As a nine-year-old schoolgirl Maureen Johnson was excited to open her first letter from a penpal in Canada. She wasn’t to know that the long-distance letter writing friendship would last a lifetime.

It all began when Maureen’s teacher organised a penfriend exchange between Fairlop Primary School in Hainault and Tillicum School in Victoria, Canada .

Maureen, now 74, was among the last of her classmates to receive a letter, but eventually it came from Theresa Kowall, who chose Maureen because she shared the same name as her sister – and 65 years later the letters keep coming.

Maureen, who lives in Craven Gardens in Barkingside, fondly remembers their very first letter.

“I was very excited. We talked about our pets, our brothers and sisters and our families,” she said.

Theresa, who lives in Vancouver with her husband, and has two children, and Maureen soon became best friends as the two girls grew into young women and began similar careers in office work.

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They shared news every three weeks about their holidays, family births, and marriages.

And the two women have supported each other through the good and bad.

When Maureen’s mother and father died in 2006, Theresa, now 75, was on hand to support her old friend and invited her to Canada for a visit.

“Canada was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen and when I dipped my feet in the Pacific ocean it was incredible, but freezing,” said Maureen.

Since Maureen got an Ipad in 2006, the two women communicate via email, which means they don’t have to wait as long to hear each other’s news.

This year they received a letter from royalty when the Queen, on hearing of their extraordinary friendship wrote to commemorate the occasion.

The women also celebrated with a visit from Theresa to Redbridge, where Maureen took her to her favourite restaurant