Queen Elizabeth II: North Salem’s British expats respond


Photo by Jane Barlow, Associated Press

Perspective by Sarah Gayden

Yesterday I broke the news to my 80-year-old British mother that Queen Elizabeth II had died. Her hand immediately flew to her mouth and her eyes grew wide. “She died?” she asked, as if perhaps she had misheard me. “She died,” I repeated. We went through one more round of confirmation before the news settled in.

For several minutes, a soft ”ohh” was about all my mother could manage to say while she bustled around our kitchen, seemingly trying to stay on task – assembling her lunch – but looking as though she didn’t quite know what to do with herself.

My mother was 10 years old when the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II took place at Westminster Abbey in London. She, along with her classmates and teachers, made the 30-minute trip from south London to central London to watch the procession.

“Luckily, because we were small, we were allowed in the front so we could see more,” my mother shared. “It was exciting standing there waiting and watching. It was the excitement of the crowds that got to you.”

Even after my mother immigrated to the United States in 1975, she remained interested in the activities of the British royal family, and especially of the queen. “I think she was a constant presence,” she said. “Even though the government changed, from Labour to Conservative, back and forth, she was always there. She wasn’t allowed to be political; regardless of who was in charge, she was still there.”

The feeling of the queen being a constant presence in British life was echoed among several other local Brits I spoke with following the news of her death. “She’s always been there; has always been in people’s lives,” said Trevor Havard, a North Salem resident and London native. “That’s what I think people will remember.”

Princess Elizabeth (Queen Elizabeth II) pictured holding a corgi in the grounds of Windsor Castle, Berkshire, Great Britain, 30 May 1944. (Photo by Lisa Sheridan/Studio Lisa/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Havard shared that his first brush with the queen came when he was five. “We did a school art project and the teacher sent our work to the queen,” he explained. “The queen’s secretary sent the teacher back a letter to say that the queen had looked at our pictures.” Havard and his classmates each got a letter on official stationery acknowledging that their work had been seen by Her Majesty.

For many Americans, the news of the queen’s passing is of interest but is not a gut punch. There is no monarchy here in the United States. It is a system that we observe from afar, often gawk at or trade memes about, but don’t fully understand.

On Thursday, Fox News personality Piers Morgan said, “to people around the world who don’t fully understand our deep affinity with the Queen, it’s as simple as this: our monarchy and Her Majesty are the very essence of being British,” a sentiment that Havard agreed with.

Michelle Gray, a North Salem resident who grew up near Manchester, England, said, “I remember from an early age, not knowing much about royalty but seeing [the queen’s] love of horses, the elegant outfits she wore, and the wave, oh the wave!”

During a childhood trip to London, Gray saw the palace and palace guards and the queen’s horses. “I was in awe! Those horses were incredible! Being a kid and seeing that was something you don’t forget,” Gray said.

Claire Friedlander, another North Salem resident who grew up in England, shared that despite not having a personal connection to the queen, she still felt deeply saddened by her death. “A unique sense of loss for a woman I did not know but who felt so familial,” Friedlander said, describing the queen as “steadfast, devoted and dedicated, pledging to live her life in the service of others.”

To a person, the Britons who spoke with the North Salem Post remarked on the queen’s lifelong service to her country. Friedlander also remarked on the more personal side of the queen. “A Mum, a Granny and a Great-Granny whose smile and quick wit will be missed by so many,” she said. “Thank you ma’am for your service…the world will be a little less bright without you in it.”

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