By Sally Barnes
Queen Elizabeth has been part of my life for as long as I can remember and her passing feels like a death in the family.
In many ways for so many of us who have followed her long and illustrious reign, the highlights of her life became milestones and memorable events in our own lives.
For me, her funeral will add to memories of her marriage, Coronation, numerous visits to Canada, and the long list of achievements, tragedies and celebrations in her personal life and those of her family.
Most of all, she will remain forever a beacon of civility, selflessness, grace, and commitment and a calming and reassuring influence when the world needed it most.
As a child, our first television set meant the Royals and the rest of the world suddenly became regular visitors to our living room (albeit only in black and white and dependent on rabbit ears.)
For most of my life, it really wasn’t Christmas until we heard (and later watched) the Queen’s Message.
As a chubby kid in a Brownie uniform, I was one of the thousands from throughout Eastern Ontario who came to Kingston to greet Princess Elizabeth and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, as they waved to the cheering throng from the back seat of a convertible on the royal couple’s first visit to Canada.
For young girls in those days, it was one big fairy tale.
Beautiful Princess marries her Prince Charming, she becomes Queen of the realm, they have four handsome children and live in huge castles and live happily ever after (or so we thought at the time.)
As adults, we would visit Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace and other landmarks and they would seem so familiar because they were the historic backdrops for so many memories that last a lifetime.
As teenagers, we could identify with history lessons about Elizabeth and her younger sister Margaret staying in London during the war despite those who urged their parents to send them to Canada for safety. I had a scrapbook that contained the photo of the young Elizabeth changing tires in her training as a driver and mechanic with the Territorial Service.
We especially loved the story of their parents giving Elizabeth and Margaret permission to go incognito into the streets of London to celebrate VE Day in Europe with the masses.
And who couldn’t love a woman who was so madly in love with dogs and horses and had a snoot full of both all her life. On one visit to Canada, we were so proud that she was sent home with our gift of a stunning steed.
In good times and bad I have followed and admired the Royal family and its important role in our great democracy. What a grand and well-deserved show of respect and affection she was given when millions gathered to celebrate her recent Platinum Anniversary. As on so many other occasions, it brought this old monarchist to tears.
As high school girls enthralled by fashion and romance, my friends and I celebrated Princess Margaret’s racy behaviour and supported her desire to marry the handsome Group Captain Peter Townsend. We were heartbroken when she renounced her wedding plans under pressure from the palace guard because Townsend was a divorcee and her sister was head of the Church of England, which did not condone divorce.
Margaret’s wedding five years later to Antony Armstrong Jones was spectacular and the first to be televised. Alas, it ultimately ended in 1960 and became the first divorce in the British royal family in 400 years.
The staid and proper world of the House of Windsor was shaken and for our beloved Queen the worst was yet to come.
There was her painful “annus horribilis” speech of 1992 referring to a year that had been littered with divorces (Prince Andrew and Princess Anne), the separation of Charles and Diana after relentless controversy and scandal, and a major fire at her beloved Windsor Castle.
Then came the tragic death of Diana in 1997 and public hostility over the isolation of the royal family and the Queen’s hesitance to publicly exhibit grief for the People’s Princess. It was just not in her DNA or tradition. Her role had always been to remain strong while others wept— apparent at the time of deaths of her parents, sister, and most recently her life partner, Prince Philip.
She took both herself and her job seriously but we will all remember her for that wonderful smile and obvious robust sense of humour.
Tradition and change were competing forces but she managed both and revealed a caring and compassionate person beneath the jewels, solemn responsibilities and centuries-old pageantry.
In a broadcast message to the Commonwealth on her 21st birthday, she made a pledge that “my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”
History will record that her life was long, her pledge was kept, and we owe her a debt of gratitude for public service that was exemplary and perhaps impossible to match.
Sally Barnes has enjoyed a distinguished career as a writer, journalist and author. Her work has been recognized in a number of ways, including receiving a Southam Fellowship in Journalism at Massey College at the University of Toronto. A self-confessed political junkie, she has worked in the back-rooms for several Ontario premiers. In addition to a number of other community contributions, Sally Barnes served a term as president of the Ontario Council on the Status of Women. She is a former business colleague of Doppler’s publisher, Hugh Mackenzie, and lives in Kingston, Ontario. You can find her online at sallybarnesauthor.com.
Don’t miss out on Doppler!
Sign up here to receive our email digest with links to our most recent stories.
Local news in your inbox three times per week!