Former speaker's secretary recalls Queen Elizabeth's visit

·3 min read

Sep. 8—Loise Washington still remembers how impressed she felt when U.S. House Speaker Carl Albert joined Queen Elizabeth II on July 8, 1976 in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.

Washington, the McAlester resident who served as Speaker Albert's appointments and scheduling secretary at the time, stood nearby as they walked through a part of the Capitol building. She found herself caught up in the moment as Queen Elizabeth walked by her, accompanied by Albert and then-U.S. Vice President Nelson Rockefeller.

"It's not a American thing, but I found myself curtsying," Washington said, referring to the slight bending of the knees she performed as a sign of respect to the queen.

Washington is among the countless people around the world mourning the loss of Queen Elizabeth II, who died Thursday at the age of 96 after serving as the British monarch for more than 70 years — making her the second longest-serving monarch in world history, after Louis XIV, of France.

Queen Elizabeth II began her reign on Feb. 6, 1952 and reigned continuously until her death on Thursday,

"It's saddening," Washington said. "It's an era."

As Speaker Albert's appointments secretary in the nation's Capitol from 1971 until December 1976, Washington had grown used to being around world leaders, including U.S. presidents and Congressional leaders, Soviet leader Lenoid Breznev and the leaders of China, to name a few. Still, something about Queen Elizabeth deeply impressed Washington, known as Loise Butler during the time she worked for Speaker Albert in Washington.

Queen Elizabeth and other British dignitaries traveled to the U.S. Capitol in 1976 for a special viewing of the oldest known copy of the Magna Carta — the British document that dates back to 1215 that set the principles of British law and served as a framework for the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

During the Queen's visit to the Capitol building to view the Magna Carta, a velvet rope was placed to separate others in the building from the dignitaries.

"When Speaker Albert and Vice President Rockefeller walked by with Queen Elizabeth I was at the edge of the rope," Washington said, relating how she spontaneously decided to curtsy as a sign of respect.

"I was overcome and overwhelmed by her presence," Washington said. "I found myself in awe."

Another McAlester resident who also worked for Albert at the time, Helen Newman, saluted Queen Elizabeth with a curtsy, Washington said.

Speaker Albert, of McAlester, personally traveled to England in 1975 as part of a small U.S. delegation to make arrangements for the loan of the Magna Carta for display in the U.S. Capitol the following year in connection with the 1976 U.S. Bicentennial celebration, Washington recalled.

Albert spoke of the significance of the Magna Carta in relation to the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

"Nothing could be more symbolically important to the people of the United States," Speaker Albert is quoted as saying during the 1976 event. "Had there been no Magna Carta in 1215, there would have been no Declaration of Independence in 1776."

Washington said that during Queen Elizabeth's 1976 visit to the U.S. Capitol, events included a luncheon held in the Capitol building's Statuary Hall, which contains statues representing each of the 50 states.

"It was right across our offices in the floor of the Rotunda," Washington said.

Queen Elizabeth also visited Speaker Albert's office, Washington said.

Albert, who had lived for a time in England as a Rhodes Scholar, particularly enjoyed the visit by Queen Elizabeth.

Albert served as Oklahoma's District 3 Democrat Congressman from 1947 until his retirement in 1977, when he did not seek reelection. He served as U.S. House Speaker from 1971-1977, during the Republican administrations of U.S. Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

After Albert retired and moved back to McAlester, Washington also returned to Oklahoma and headed Albert's office in McAlester.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.