Romance was not high on NAB Branch Manager Katie Freeman’s mind when she started sifting through the contents of an old safety deposit box in Sydney.
The last time a customer named Chris Beale had contacted NAB about this particular box was over 30 years ago. Despite many attempts to contact Chris over the years, NAB employees had had no success.
It was for this reason that the contents of the box were legally classified as “repossessed”. It was up to Katie and her colleague Anna Liu to work out what the box contained, and what to do with the contents.
“We were really surprised when we looked inside,” said Katie.
“We discovered more than 30 letters written long ago from a woman named Francesca in Sydney to Chris while he was traveling overseas.
“I thought how lovely it would be if we could at least return the letters to Chris,” Katie said.
Katie and Anna did some googling using both Chris’ name plus Francesca’s name and address. The best lead they got was that Chris may have once served on the board of an organisation in the United States.
“We just didn’t want to give up, so we contacted the organisation in the US. Through them we discovered that Chris was living in the US although he had retired from that board. I asked them to connect us,” Katie said.
Chris said he was shocked when, over the phone, Katie told him about his long-forgotten safety deposit box which he’d opened back when he was a student living in Sydney.
“Katie needed to verify my identity and make sure that I was the right Chris Beale. She asked me several questions, some of which were easy to answer, others not. For example, I had no memory of my account number from such a long time ago, nor what might be in the box.
“So she switched the focus. She told me that the contents of the box were a collection of letters. That mystified me,” said Chris.
“She then told me that the letters seemed to be from a girlfriend. She assured me that none of the staff had read the letters since they were personal, but the name of the sender was on the envelopes and the letters were addressed to Chris Beale at various locations overseas.”
“I knew immediately what letters they were. I was thrilled,” Chris said.
“During one long summer break from university, my father had offered my brother and me a round-the-world trip. It was a great opportunity, but my girlfriend and I hated the idea of being separated for so long. So, we promised to write to each other frequently.”
So could Chris name the sender of all the letters?
“Of course I can!” he replied. “It was Francesca Macartney, a fellow student at the University of Sydney.
“When the letters were written, we had been going out for a year. Four years later we got married. Five days after the wedding we flew to the US. We’ve lived in the US ever since.
“Francesca Macartney Beale is now a lawyer and I’m in finance. We have two sons who were born in the US and have been to Australia many times.
“I don’t know how the branch manager tracked me down. Great detective work on her part. Talk about great customer service!”
Katie has now couriered the letters to Chris … just in time for Valentine’s Day.
“I plan to surprise my wife on Valentine’s Day with the news that we have the letters,” said Chris.
“Then we will start reading them again.”