School assignment turns into a life-long friendship


The photos, cards and letter spread out on Ev Thomas’ kitchen table are part of an elementary school assignment which turned into 62 years of friendship with a woman who lived hundreds of miles away.

When the Dawn-Euphemia woman was still Evelyn Wright, her teacher at Little Ireland Public School, Mrs. Field, gave the class an English assignment – find a pen pal in the back of a magazine and write them a letter.

Thomas scanned the pages and found Evelyn MacMillian from New Brunswick. “Her name was the same as mine , Evelyn, which was unusual and she was born in February, the same as me.”

Long after the assignment ended, the two Evelyns continued writing. There were letters for birthdays and Christmases, six, seven or eight handwritten pages with news about their lives.

“We wrote about our parents, what we did for our social life, needlepoint and sewing,” says Thomas. They chronicled their dating life, “running around” as Thomas calls it, getting married and having and raising children over the years and miles. “We talked about everything.”

And with the letters came pictures; MacMillian on her parent’s porch or at her desk at work, a picture with her husband after she became Evelyn Gagne. And scores of pictures of the loves of her life – her children.

After more than two decades of correspondence, the two Evelyns met. MacMillian-Gagne was on a trip with her husband and drove to Dawn-
Euphemia to visit Thomas on her farm for the afternoon. “That was quite an experience. We had been writing letter so long and then to actually see her in person it was wonderful.”

Over the years, the letters were filled with stories of children who had grown and the pictures now included grandchildren. MacMillian-Gagne also shared her struggles with arthritis apologizing to Thomas for her messy handwriting at the end of a seven-page letter. That letter, which included a recipe for Thomas to try at a family gathering, would be the last.

At Christmas, Thomas received her yearly Christmas card from Nova Scotia where her pen pal now lived. There wasn’t a letter, just two short lines at the bottom of the card which were illegible.

“Right then I knew something was wrong,” says Thomas. Before she headed to Florida, Thomas wrote a birthday card and letter to MacMillian-Gagne. “I said ‘if you can’t write, have your daughter write and tell me what is going on.’”

MacMillian-Gagne never read that card. While Thomas was away MacMillian-Gagne passed away of lung cancer. The card arrived in the mail after her death.

Her pen pal’s family tried to reach Thomas by phone to tell her the news, but could not. When she returned, a letter came from Evelyn’s son, Todd.

“I didn’t want to leave the message on your phone,” Todd began as he broke the news of his mother’s death. “She had not been well for quite a long time …she had wanted to pass away at home and we were able to accommodate her wishes.

“I’m very sorry to bring you this news.”

Thomas will miss writing the letters to her friend adding it will be the end of a lifetime of letter writing for her as well. “She is the only person I wrote to. I send out a few Christmas and birthday cards and I’ll write a note, but as far as writing goes, she was the only one.”