Centenarian penpals insist 'It's just a friendship'

World’s oldest pen pals, both 100, have been keeping in touch across the Atlantic for 85 years – but now chat via Zoom with the help of ‘the younger people’

  • Geoff, from Devon and Celesta, from Texas, both 100, are still penpals 
  • READ MORE: A red letter day! British woman finally meets her pen pal in South Carolina 68 years after they first started writing to each other

The world’s oldest pen pals who have enjoyed a transatlantic friendship for almost 90 years have revealed they’ve brought their relationship into the 21st century by now communicating on Zoom – but they insist there’s no romance involved. 

Centenarians Geoff Banks, from Honiton, Devon and Celesta Byrne, from Texas in the US, started writing to each other aged just 16 in 1938, after meeting through a project uniting teens across the Atlantic.

Geoff, a former engineer, even kept in touch with Celesta during WWII when he served as a mechanic on British aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious in the Pacific.

The pair met for the first time in person in 2002, in New York, and met again later in 2004 – Celesta has insisted they are ‘just friends’ despite a relationship spanning almost nine decades. 

Now the pen pals have both turned 100, they have switched from pen and paper to Zoom calls (with the help of their children) in order to keep in touch – something George enjoys because writing has become ‘difficult’ for him.  

Pictured left is Geoff Banks from Devon at a rare meet up with Celesta Byrne, from Texas

With the help of their children, Mr Banks (pictured) and Ms Byrne have been able to embrace new technology and chat over video call

Geoff Banks (pictured) reads letters sent to him by Celesta Byrne in their long transatlantic friendship

He said: ‘I honestly struggle to remember how we got in touch, but I was talking to Celesta recently and I think it was something to do with an American school’s scheme’.

Geoff recalls he was in his final year at grammar school when he was matched up with the American Celesta and they began chatting – but then the war got in the way, making it difficult for them to keep up regular contact. 

‘There were a couple of years where we struggled to keep in touch because of the war, but some of my mail I had sent to her during the war was returned to her after it ended and she wrote me back’.

After 85 years of friendship, Celesta also struggles to write these days, and is also partially sighted. Therefore, Geoff arranges calls via email with one of Celesta’s daughters, who lives nearby. 

Geoff said: ‘We just talk about daily lives and our families really. I think in one of my early letters I sent her a copy of a British paper in 1953 which had Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation on the front of it.

The two live almost 5,000 miles apart but have continued their pen pal friendship since 1938

The two have maintained friendship after a staggering nine decades of friendship that was facilitated by their schools. Pictured here is Geoff, aged 100 (2022)

‘She acknowledged receipt of that, but we generally just chat and put the world to rights you know. She’s a very interesting person.

‘She’s always been there to write to, even if it was just birthday cards and Christmas cards.’

Other topics of conversation include Celesta’s pet chickens and both of their families but Geoff has stressed that they don’t discuss the football.

Despite having such a unique relationship, the pair deny there has ever been any romantic feelings on either side. Both the pen pals have been married, and Geoff’s wife of 63 years passed away in 2011. 

‘No, we’re just friends, like people who live next door. It’s nice to hear his voice,’ Celesta said. 

Geoff Banks was originally given Celesta Byrne’s address in 1938 when he took part in an educational project connecting young British and Americans. Pictured: letters sent between the two of them 

Geoff is now a great grandfather, having sadly outlived his daughter. 

He has three other sons scattered around the world and many more grandchildren.

Recalling the time he first met his pen pal, Geoff said: ‘I’d worked abroad for a number of years but had not been to the states for some time.

‘Celesta was in New Jersey, so we decided to meet up in New York for a short Christmas trip.

‘It was all very good, and actually we met up again in 2004 when she invited me to her house for lunch.’

He also revealed how his relationship with Celesta has evolved over the years, adding: ‘I have this new thing called Zoom I think now to chat with her, but I leave all the technology to younger people. They’re much better at pressing all the buttons.’

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