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A friendship that spanned 60 years and two continents

Local woman meets her pen pal for the first time

A friendship that spanned 60 years and two continents

A friendship that spanned 60 years and two continents

Mima Owens, right, says goodbye to he...

Sixty years of friendship – and yet they’d never met. That is, not until recently.
    In early September, 75-year-old Mima Owens boarded an airplane for the very first time and flew to England to meet Maureen Simpson, her pen pal since 1953.
    “It actually began as an English teacher’s assignment,” Owens said.    
    The two 15-year-olds became fast friends and wrote each other for years.
    Both women married the same year, 1960: Owens married Jeff Owens Jr., and Simpson married David Simpson.
    The Owenses moved to Statesboro soon after their wedding and began a longtime membership at Statesboro First Baptist Church, with Mima teaching a third-grade Sunday school class for the past 50 years.
    Owens and Simpson continued to stay in touch via letters and pictures, a few phone calls, and Christmas packages and, eventually, emails and Facebook. Owens often shared tidbits about her family – children Jeff III, Jon and Joy –  and updated Simpson when marriages occurred, grandchildren arrived – Chandler, Evan, Justin and Cody – and a great-granddaughter made her appearance: Aubree Jordyn.
    “All my life, I’d heard about Mandy and Julie,” said daughter Joy Deal about Maureen’s children. 
    When Owens’ husband of 52 years died last year, she expressed sadness that she and her husband had not done some of the things she’d wanted to do.
    “What did you want to do?” asked Joy.
    Her mom answered, “I always wanted to go to England to see my pen pal.”
    “Then let’s go,” Joy said.
    Just slightly taken aback, Owens conceded quickly and plans for the adventure began to unfold.
    Owens said she never had qualms about flying.
“God takes care of me every day. He’ll take care of me in that plane, too,” Owens said of her thoughts before the flight.
    Owens and Deal landed in Heathrow and, attempting to adjust to the time change even though they were exhausted, began touring right away and saw High Street Kensington shops and rode the “tube,” or subway.
    The next day, the two tourists saw the Tower of London, the Crown Jewels, Hyde Park, Parliament and Westminster Abbey, and ate fish and chips. They boated on the Thames River, heard the chimes of Big Ben, shopped in the Theatre District and ate roasted peanuts.
    Taking an express train to Stockton-on-Tees, where Simpson resides, the travelers admired the English countryside. Simpson’s daughter, Maureen, met Owens and Deal at the train station and drove them to Simpson’s bungalow.
    “What a precious ‘reunion’ for the two of us who had never met,” Owens said. “It was so amazing to see how easy it was to reminisce. And Joy and Mandy felt like ‘long lost cousins’ immediately. What a wonderful blessing for all of us.”
    Owens said Simpson has a few health issues, but was able to keep up with the travelers’ ventures for the most part. For the next three days, the two families, one from each side of the ocean, enjoyed sweet conversations, many meals, and more sightseeing.
    “We actually experienced the ‘real England’ – seeing where our friends live, meeting their family and neighbors,” Owens said.
    Owens, a former schoolteacher and an avid history buff for most of her life, particularly enjoyed touring York.
    When the time came to leave her new friend whom she had known for 60 years, Owens found it difficult to say goodbye.
“It was bittersweet,” Owens said. “It’s my prayer that she and I will one day meet again in heaven.”
    Owens and Deal made their way back to London for a couple of days before returning to the United States, took in other sights like Buckingham Palace and saw “Phantom of the Opera.”
    Just before leaving, Joy asked her mom, “What’s our next adventure?”
    With no hesitation, Mima Owens replied, “I don’t think we can top this.”
    Owens said it was a trip she had dreamed of for years and one she’ll never forget.
“God is so good and so faithful,” she said. “I am truly blessed.”

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