In 1950, 12-year-old Jill Stretton from Australia was given a gift that would change her life forever. A family friend who had recently returned from vacationing in Scotland gave Jill the name and address of another 12-year-old girl named Cathie Alexander. Jill wrote a letter to Cathie which received a prompt response–one that took six weeks to arrive due to airmail travel time in the 50’s–which marked the beginning of a decades-long friendship.

Jill Stretten (L) and Cathie Alexander during their first meeting in 1982

Over the 70 years the women have been corresponding, they’ve only met in person three times. The first meeting didn’t happen until 1982, 32 years after they began writing to each other. Jill flew to Scotland to stay with Cathie and her family and had this to say upon entering Alexander’s home:

“She is just like one of the family. And when I eventually got to her place and I walked in, there were photos of me on her walls — it was like coming in to my own house.”

A copy of the first letter Jill sent to Cathie

The women have shared every intimate detail of their lives with each other, from schooling and graduation, weddings, motherhood, other joys, and even heartaches. Not a single important milestone or life event has been withheld from the other.

“Never any gaps, never,” Ms. Stretton said. “And when I lost my husband when I was 54, within 24 hours I had beautiful bunch of orchids here, and that was just unbelievable that Cathie would do that.

Letters with important news contained pictures of the occasion for the other to feel like a participant, sending each other pictures from their wedding days and photos of newborn children.

The first picture Cathie (R) sent Jill.

When Jill had her first baby, Cathie sent her a beautiful and delicate shawl to commemorate the happy occasion, and the shawl is now being used to swaddle Jill’s first great-grandchild.

As technology has developed, the pair have largely switched to corresponding over e-mail, enjoying the swift (and free) method of communicating with each other. They also enjoy sending quick postcards when traveling.

“We do tend at the moment to send postcards of where we have been and what we are doing rather than write big letters because we email now — aren’t we clever?” Stretton shared.

At 82, Jill Stretton still keeps up her correspondence with Cathie Alexander


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