Pen pals for life

Joanne McQuay of Vernon met her best friend a lifetime ago in an unlikely place – Bermuda.

For 58 years, McQuay has been exchanging countless letters with Marlene Warren, a 69-year-old retired teacher living in Hamilton Parish, Bermuda.

The friendship began when Warren stumbled across McQuay’s name in the back of a magazine one afternoon at the Salvation Army’s Sunday School.

“There was a list of names of people who wanted to be pen pals and I chose Joanne’s and two others,” said Warren. “I don’t remember the names of  the other two kids. They didn’t really write me back.”

While attending the United Church in Oshawa, Ont., McQuay figures the churches were using the same magazine. Neither can remember the magazine’s name.

“I just thought it would be fun to write to someone. I never thought they would be in a different country,” said McQuay, who just celebrated her 71st birthday.

“We talked about school, family and friends, and everyday life,” said Warren. “A lot of the same stuff we still talk about now.”

McQuay grew up on a farm just outside Cambridge, Ont. and has lived out west since 1970.

Warren believes she was 10 and McQuay was 12 when they first got in touch. It wasn’t until Warren attended Ottawa Teacher College eight years later that they first met face to face.

“We were both so excited,” said McQuay. “We would always send photos of each other back and forth, but it was great to finally meet her in person.”

After their first meeting, their friendship was sealed. The visits became more frequent as their lives evolved.

McQuay made a few trips down to Bermuda the following years. She attended Warren’s wedding in 1967 and went down again for the birth of her first daughter, Tammy.

The two friends exchanged letters every month or so, but can’t begin to fathom how many letters have been written over the years.

“We can’t even put a wild guess on a number — well over 1,000 probably,” said McQuay.

Not all of their long-distance sleepovers came during happy times.

Warren proved how great of a friend she was when she travelled to visit McQuay after her mother was diagnosed with cancer.

“It was so supportive and my whole family appreciated that gesture,” said McQuay.

Warren said that incident was one of the most challenging times they have gone through together.

“I just felt I had to be with her,” she added.

To this day, the two still visit and write each other. Nowadays, they use email, but still write each other for Christmas and birthday cards.

McQuay has a writing background and writes a newsletter to her friend around Christmas time.

“As we got older we didn’t write as much. We had a lot going on with our kids and work, but we still kept in touch,” said Warren.

Warren just finished visiting the North Okanagan and staying at McQuay’s place. Prior to this visit, their last reunion was in 2012 when McQuay flew down to Bermuda.

Warren and her husband are coming off an Alaskan cruise and will make their way over to Banff and Calgary before heading home.

The two are world travellers these days. Both retired, McQuay just returned from a trip to Spain, Portugal and Morocco.

Warren travels with her husband, and most of the time it is to go and see her kids or grandkids, who are scattered all over the globe.

When Warren began talking about McQuay, who is “absolutley my best friend,” she began to tear up.

“Joanne and I have so much in common, I think God put us together. She is the nicest person to know and I’m so happy we have been pen pals over the years.”

Without hesitating, McQuay said she felt exactly the same way and claimed that both of their fathers even resembled one another.

The two best friends are already looking forward to their next reunion and to celebrate the 60th anniversary of their friendship in 2017.

“We better start planning something fun!”

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