Chicagoans react to the news of Queen Elizabeth II’s death: ‘She represented dignity’

·6 min read

Inside the Red Lion Pub in the heart of Lincoln Park on Thursday, owner Colin Cordwell played the British song “Land of Hope and Glory” on repeat all day. The wooden floors creaked as a couple of patrons made their way in, sitting against a backdrop of books, bottles and colorful Christmas lights. The TV was playing footage of the queen.

News of the death of Queen Elizabeth II traveled swiftly around the globe, including to Chicago, where consulates, British expatriates and ordinary Chicagoans alike felt the weight of the announcement. Elizabeth, who died at Balmoral Castle in Scotland at age 96, had been Britain’s longest-serving monarch with a reign of some seven decades, and for much of the Chicago and world she remained the face of her home country.

The royal family announced her death online, saying she had “died peacefully.”

On Chicago’s North Side, Cordwell said he wept at the news. He owns the very British Red Lion Pub, which was opened in 1984 by his father, John Cordwell, at 2446 N. Lincoln Ave., across the street from the Biograph Theatre.

“She ascended the throne four years before I was born and my English grandmother loved her, and also loved the Queen Mum, Elizabeth’s mother,” Cordwell said, reacting to news of the queen’s death. “She represented dignity, steadfastness, and strong continuity.”

When Cordwell’s father opened the pub, it had no jukebox or video games and a menu filled with such oddities as Welsh rarebit, sausage rolls and steak and kidney pie, and offering such then-exotic liquid refreshments as Bass, Watney’s and Whitbread.

John Cordwell’s conversation was peppered with phrases such as “filthy bugger” and “bloody” this-or-that. He was British and would tell stories of his service in the Royal Air Force, his capture by the Nazis and what it was like to have been a POW, where he helped plan the famous but failed “Great Escape.” He was an architect and died in 1999.

His son runs the place today, vastly rebuilt in 2014, and now a handsome homage/museum, with an open-air dining room, three fireplaces on two levels, shelves filled with more than 1,000 books from his personal collection, vaulted ceilings, large windows, dozens of items lining the walls of the War Room — a tribute to his father and grandfather.

“Few know that she, like my father, was also a World War II veteran, having signed up on her 18th birthday. She joined the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service,” which was similar to the American Women’s Army Corps.

“She exemplified the toughness of English women,” Colin Cordwell said. “She will be greatly missed.”

Elizabeth and husband Prince Philip famously visited Chicago in 1959, just six years into her reign, their only stop in the United States during a tour of the Canadian provinces and Great Lakes. It was also the first visit of a reigning British monarch to Chicago.

Mayor Richard J. Daley and his wife, Eleanor, more commonly known as “Sis,” were their companions during most of the queen’s visit. The seven Daley children (Richard, William, John, Michael, Mary Carol, Patricia and Eleanor) were young at the time, the former mayor Richard M. Daley being the eldest at 17. He had some memories of the visit, once recalling for a Tribune reporter than “Queen Elizabeth was very nice and took time to talk with all of us, asking questions about what we liked to do.”

The British Consulate General in Chicago, housed at 625 N. Michigan Ave., shared notices of the queen’s death on its own social media accounts, including a letter from new British Prime Minister Liz Truss and “a statement from His Majesty The King.” Following Elizabeth’s death, eldest son Charles became King Charles III.

Meanwhile, at the Red Lion, one of the patrons, Ed Pennington, said he was going to meet up with a friend elsewhere but decided to head to the pub after hearing about the queen’s death.

“We actually were going to meet just across the street,” he said. “But when I did see the news and thought, ‘Oh, we should go to the Red Lion, see if anybody else is there.’ ”

Pennington, originally from Yorkshire, England, moved to Chicago 22 years ago and now lives in Bucktown.

“I think, given the circumstances of her losing her husband — what was that now — 18 months ago, maybe? And then, obviously, just the frailty of being in your late 90s — I think it’s somewhat expected,” he said. “But obviously, sad as it is, I got a lot of messages about what a sort of great public servant she had been. And I would wholeheartedly agree with that.”

Prince Philip died on April 9, 2021, at Windsor Castle.

Glenn Cohen is visiting Chicago from Manchester for two weeks. In between sips of beer, he said: “You know, it’s sad when anyone dies. When it’s someone like the queen, it’s quite a big deal.”

During his time in the city, Cohen attended a professional wrestling match, went to a music festival and visited bars in Wrigleyville. But he said he didn’t know what to do when he heard the news, so he opened up Google and searched for a pub in Chicago. And Red Lion came up, so he decided to go for a pint.

“It just felt like the right thing to do,” Cohen added.

On the other side of the pond, Jenny Salmon said on the phone that she’s still processing the news of the queen’s death. The 42-year-old, who lived in Chicago for six years during her 20s, and said she misses the Chicago sun during the summertime, said she’s still in “a bit of a shock.”

“We saw on Tuesday when she met the prime minister, I kind of said to my husband, ‘She’s really not looking too well at the moment,’ ” Salmon said. “But she kind of got up there and still did what she had to do and (met) the prime minister.”

When Salmon picked her children up from school Thursday afternoon, she said, the teachers had skipped the day’s lesson and everyone was glued to the TV to stay updated on the queen’s condition. She said the mood in her country right now is overall reflective.

“I think people are reflecting on her reign and what a great monarch she was,” she said. “I think we thought she was invincible, because she’s had such a long reign that you just kind of thought that she would go on forever.”

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