Sylvia Davis reads one of the first letters she ever received from her high school pen pal dated May 8, 1965. Davis' pen pal, Paul Neeson, from Australia, recently visited Davis for the first time. Matt Peterson/matt.peterson@austindailyherald.com

Archived Story

47 years, 2 countries

Published 7:00pm Saturday, September 15, 2012

Austin woman connects with Australia

It’s a story 47 years in the making, and it’s still unfolding.

More than 40 years ago, Sylvia Davis of Austin wrote to a stranger halfway around the world.

That stranger wrote back, and for about five years the two corresponded in a way that is now a long-lost artform — as pen pals.

Davis holds the May 8, 1965 letter sent from Paul Neeson in Australia. Matt Peterson/matt.peterson@austindailyherald.com

After decades of disconnect, Davis reconnected with that man, Paul Neeson of Australia, and the two met in person for the first time in their lives just last week. The first time they wrote to each other was through school, and they were 15. But contact stopped when they were 20.

“It’s very exciting,” Davis said as she sat in her living room, waiting to leave the next day and greet Neeson and his significant other, Evelyn Hine, at the airport. Neeson was not available for the interview before this issue went to press.

Davis, now happily married to Ken Davis in Austin, never dwelled on the thought of personally connecting with Neeson. But she occasionally tried to reach him.

“I tried to find him over the years,” Davis said. “That was before computers and email and all that stuff.”

The thought again crossed her mind about three years ago while she spoke with her son-in-law, who suggested Davis look for the long-lost pen pal on Facebook.

Davis quickly found him, and she discovered a lot more. Perhaps coincidence? Perhaps not.

Both pen pals are English teachers, 62 years old, soon retiring and have children and grandchildren. The parallels, she says, are “uncanny.”

Sylvia Davis of Austin shows a book about Australia she received from her Australian pen pal, Paul Neeson. Davis reconnected with Neeson after decades and recently met him in person for the first time. Matt Peterson/matt.peterson@austindailyherald.com

“Because we have parallels in our lives, I think we think along the same lines,” Davis added.

In a way, the pen palls will act as each other’s information source to the other side of the world. Davis has kept some of the original letters. Both pen pals have sent souvenirs and gifts for grandchildren.

Now Davis can’t wait until she visits Australia next year. Because of the correspondence with Neeson, she feels as though she already knows part of Australia. Over the years, she and Davis wrote about the weather, the scenery, school and current affairs.

“It’s cold and wet today,” Neeson wrote in one of his first letters to Davis, dated May 8, 1965. “Most of the trees are bare, and our street has a grim look once again.”

While each has seen pictures and knows a lot about the other, they never spoke on the phone during their writings 40 years ago. .

“To call another country, that’s an expense you wouldn’t even consider back in the 60s,” Davis said.

These days Davis and Neeson correspond mostly through email, yet they occasionally speak on the phone. As an American, Davis was thrilled to hear that quintessential Australian tone.

“The first time he called, I was so thrilled to hear this voice,” she said.

Neeson is now on a so-called “world tour” that may last for months.

He will have visited places such as San Francisco, New York City and more locations in Europe. He told Davis not to make a big deal about his visit, but she can’t help herself.

“He said, ‘don’t make a big deal out of me coming,’” Davis said. “I think what he is missing, he is a big deal. … This is a big deal to me.”

 


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