By Catherine Amoriello
Today is World Thinking Day – a special Girl Scout holiday dedicated to celebrating international friendship. Most Girl Scouts can say they have made a lifelong friend through Girl Scouting, and this rings especially true for Susan Ross, a 78-year-old retired nurse and college professor from Franklin County who became best friends with a Girl Scout from England.
Ross and 79-year-old Sandra Carter from Rugely in Staffordshire, England, have shared a friendship that spans almost seven decades. The pair were first introduced through a pen pal project Ross’ troop participated in to earn their international friendship badge in 1955.
“The troop leaders handed out little slips of paper with girl names on them. I remember sitting down to write that letter and my hand was shaking, I was so excited and so nervous!” laughed Ross.
Carter responded to Ross’ letter right away, and the two continued to write back and forth throughout their youth. Separated by the Atlantic Ocean, Ross and Carter built a friendship through sending letters, exchanging pictures, and mailing little gifts. Not even a distance of over 4,000 miles could interfere with their blossoming bond, and Carter considered Ross the little sister she never had.
After about 15 years of only communicating through pen and paper, Ross and Carter finally arranged to meet in person in 1969. By that time Carter was married with three children – her 4-year-old daughter Lee-Maria, 2-year-old daughter Amber, and 8-month old son Scott. The trip was planned after she asked Ross to be Scott’s godmother.
“She said they would delay the christening until I could come. I was so flattered. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I could do this. I could go to England.’ I always said someday when I grow up, I am going to meet Sandra,” said Ross.
The trip was not only Ross’ first visit to England, but it was also her first experience traveling abroad. Despite not being able to contact Carter directly upon arrival, being unfamiliar with England’s transportation systems, and struggling to find a local who could help her find where Carter lived, she persevered to reach her destination and meet her international pen pal.
“A cabbie eventually figured out where I was trying to go. I got there, knocked on the back door, and there she was,” Ross said of their first meeting.
With their friendship finally solidified in person, the trip was the first of many to come. Ross returned to England again in 1974 to reconnect with Carter. It was during this trip Ross established a strong relationship with Lee-Maria, Amber, and Scott as well.
“I think at that point I really bonded with those kids and I’ve always been Aunty Sue since. They’re the children of my heart, really,” said Ross.
The “San Clan,” as Ross fondly refers to Carter’s family, has played an integral role in helping the pair maintain their long-distance friendship over the years. She has a relationship with each child that is unique, and Carter has always been very generous with sharing them, Ross said.
Ross’ most recent trip to England was mid-October 2022 where she visited with the San Clan for two weeks. Ross was able to catch up not only with Carter, but her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren as well. Ross’ connection with the family is so close that Lee-Maria had assumed she was a blood relative most her life.
“She said, ‘I only just realized you’re not related to us. I just thought you were some branch of the family that moved to America.’ And then she reached over and gave me a hug and said, ‘It doesn’t matter – you’ll always be my Aunty Sue,’” said Ross.
At 10 years old, Ross never could have imagined the friendship, adventure, family, and love that would come out of that one Girl Scout badge. Her experience inspired her to remain involved in Girl Scouts today as a Juliette Gordon Low Society member and donor to help girls have their own special journey through Girl Scouts.
“I work with Girl Scouts because it meant a lot to me as a kid and allowed me to have experiences like camping, completing service projects, and doing all the badges,” said Ross. “There were lots of things that were very meaningful to me that I enjoyed, but the gift of this international friendship with Sandra wouldn’t have happened without Girl Scouts.”