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Sacramento area woman traces unlikely friendship with British royalty back to Squaw Valley

Sarah Ferguson poses for a photo with Elaine Adams after an event in Roseville.
Sarah Ferguson poses for a photo with Elaine Adams after an event in Roseville.

Elaine Adams was no stranger to the power of a well-written letter. When her husband needed a job, she wrote to her former associate, who was glad to help. Another time, she couldn’t remove the smell of sour milk in her car trunk. She wrote to her supermarket manager and he covered the cost of a professional cleaning. But it was her letter to Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson in 1999 that led to her most treasured reward: decades of friendship.

Their relationship started in the late ’70s, when Elaine’s husband Cliff got a new car and they decided to drive from Sacramento to Squaw Valley for lunch. It was the offseason; the weather was warm and sunny, and the couple took an outside table. Their waitress was a perky redheaded teenager with a British accent. Since the restaurant was nearly deserted, their waitress repeatedly checked on them making pleasant conversation each time she came to their table.

Like just about everyone else on the planet, Elaine Adams watched the wedding of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson at Westminster Abbey in July of 1986.

“Could that be our waitress from Squaw Valley?” she asked her husband.

Following the amicable divorce between Andrew and Sarah (known as Fergie in the press) in 1996, Sarah was the recipient of endless negative stories. Elaine Adams decided it was time to reach out to her in 1999. She was told to send a letter to Buckingham Palace.

In a letter dated June 7, 1999, Ferguson responded by thanking Adams for recognizing her as “the girl who served you in the Squaw Valley coffee shop all those years ago.”

She went on to share the pleasure that her memories of Squaw Valley brought her. At 17, Ferguson and her friend planned an American roadtrip that her father allowed but did not pay for. After they ran out of money in San Francisco, the daring duo took a Greyhound bus to Squaw Valley to work. Ferguson cleaned rooms, waited tables and, during ski season, was an instructor who spent a lot of time with small children. Ferguson learned to ski at the age of 3, and she taught her daughters, Eugenie and Beatrice, at the same age.

The “Yes, that’s me!” letter was followed by annual Christmas cards featuring Eugenie and Beatrice. Adams marked their growth by the changes in their annual photos. Adams shared her life-changing experiences with Ferguson as well.

Before Ferguson’s appearance on Good Day Sacramento on September 29, 2000, Marianne McClary interviewed Adams about her connection to the duchess of York. During Ferguson’s TV appearance, she was shown a clip of Adams’ interview and then spoke to Adams by phone. Later, the two met when Ferguson hosted a Weight Watcher’s fashion show at the Sacramento Community Center. Adams sat in the front row next to McClary. Ferguson invited Adams to tea after the show.

The two would meet again a few years later when Ferguson made a speech on women’s health at the Roseville Kaiser complex. From the podium, Ferguson recognized Adams and the two again enjoyed tea and conversation following the program.

Correspondence between the two women is ongoing. Adams recently received a multi-picture card featuring Princess Eugenie to commemorate her Oct. 12, 2018 wedding at Windsor Castle.

Over the years, Ferguson has sent a number of gifts to Adams, including a tea set, a “Sarah” doll produced for FAO Schwartz to raise money for children, Ferguson’s children’s book “Ballerina Rose” (published in 2012), the round china box that was a memento of William and Kate’s wedding on April 29, 2011, an embroidered handkerchief, assorted teas and biscuits and many photographs taken by Ferguson herself.

The two share more than a happy memory of Squaw Valley.

Adams had a lifetime of experience in writing, advertising and public relations and photography. Her story about Avery Brundage was optioned and became a TV miniseries in 1988 called, “King of the Olympics: The Lives and Loves of Avery Brundage.” In 2007, she published her memoir, “The Healing House.” In it, she recounts her recovery from tuberculosis, rheumatic fever and pneumonia at historic Thunborg House, a farmhouse in Hayden Lake, Idaho.

Adams’ lifelong philosophy, “Don’t tell me I can’t do it!” is a something she shares with Ferguson.

Did Ferguson have so much time on her hands after her high-profile 1996 divorce that she was eager to make new friends? It would seem not. In a Harper’s Bazaar interview, she said she knew she would “have to work after the divorce,” but that’s an understatement for her whirlwind of activities.

Like Adams, Ferguson worked in public relations and advertising before her royal wedding. Once single, she wrote over 40 books (primarily children’s, health, and memoirs), was both a promoter and product developer for Weight Watchers, Avon and Wedgewood, made film shorts and documentaries, was a TV and radio host, and has founded and promoted numerous charities benefitting children, families and education. In her spare time (what spare time??) she enjoys photography. The thoughtful correspondence she’s maintained for the past 20 years comes amid numerous projects and obligations.

The relationship between the two go-getters has evolved, as has their greetings. “Dear Elaine” has become “Dearest Elaine” and letters are closed by “With special love” and the occasional “XX” for kisses. When Adams recently shared news of her granddaughter’s battle with breast cancer, Ferguson offered to help in any way she could.

All thanks to a simple summer visit to Squaw Valley.

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