Isles residents reflect on the passing of the queen

·6 min read

Sep. 10—Ken Lee pointed to the black and white photo of two young, broadly grinning boys clad in party hats.

"This is a picture of the street party at the coronation. I was about 7, I suppose. All the kids had their street party in the afternoon," he said, holding the image. "At the bottom of the road, there was a cul de sac and the adults had their street party there at night. They had lights strung up by my uncle. There were record players and dancing."

That was in Wallasey, England, on June 2, 1953 — the day Queen Elizabeth II was crowned. Even 70 years later, the memories are crystal clear.

"I can't remember what I had for breakfast, but I remember this. It's like they've all come flooding back again," he said.

Ken grew up in Wallasey while his wife, Sandra, hails from Liverpool, across the Mersey River. For the couple, who now lives in Glynn County, the passing of the beloved sovereign on Thursday has been a surreal experience.

"You knew that she was 96 and it was going to be any year, but I thought she was looking pretty good. I guess it still felt kind of sudden for me. Only two days ago, she brought the prime minister in," he said. "But I said to Sandra, 'look at her hands, they're black.' I just got a feeling that she was on kind of on her deathbed and was very ill but said, 'I've got a duty to do, get me dressed, I've got to meet the prime minister.'"

"May I say, that's very British," Sandra added with a laugh. "My 93-year-old mother would do that."

That sense of dedication to duty was an enduring quality of the queen's long reign. Her embodiment of the popular World War II phrase, "keep calm and carry on," proved an inspiration to her subjects, as well as countless royal watchers throughout the world.

As the years rolled by, Queen Elizabeth II continued to offer quiet and stately service, never granting interviews or voicing personal viewpoints. In an age where grievances are frequently aired on social media, the notion was truly extraordinary. The monarchy's unofficial motto of "never complain, never explain" may seem antiquated in a world of constant, unfiltered "sharing," but it underscored the dignity of the position she held.

Born to Albert, Duke of York, and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon in 1926, the Princess of York, as Elizabeth was first known, grew up in a very different world than the one she recently departed. Never destined to become queen, her path was cemented when her uncle, David, Duke of Windsor and formerly King Edward VIII, abdicated to marry the twice divorced American, Wallis Simpson. In 1936, her father, Albert, was crowned King George VI and the young Princess Elizabeth became his heir. She ascended to the throne after his death in 1952 at just 26 years old.

During her time, she weathered dozens of storms. She endured very public breakdowns of her children's marriages, most notably that of Prince Charles and Princess Diana in the 1990s, followed by Diana's tragic death in 1997. That, Ken notes, was the lone time the public bristled under her leadership.

"There was a bump when Princess Di was killed, but it didn't last long," he recalled. "Everyone, I think, loved the queen. She was committed to duty, and she always rose above. She rose above politics and all of that. You never knew if she was Labor or Conservative (party). She never talked about any of that."

"She never took sides," Sandra agreed.

Like so many around the world, the Lees have spent time in reflection over the past few days. Ken saw the queen multiple times during his youth, occasions that certainly hold even more meaning now.

"When I first saw the queen, I was at school. We practiced waving flags in the school yard. I must have been 6 or 7. The queen went around visiting lots of towns. She was standing in the car and waving. We as kids lined both sides of the street waving the flags," he said.

"The second time I saw her was years ago, in the Beatles days. I was 18, I think. I was in the Army. I was at Butlins Holiday Camp in (Pwllheli) Wales. Goodness knows why, but she was touring and she took a tour through Butlins Holiday Camp. She was in an open car and waving at everybody with Phillip, of course."

The last time he saw her was during a military parade.

"When we were in Germany, our regiment was heavy armory. We had tanks and guns, so it was a massive parade. I can't remember what it was for, but we had a massive parade of all the armament. She was standing there saluting everybody. As we passed, our tank tipped its gun to salute her," he said. "That was the third time."

The Lees have shared memories with family in Britain over WhatsApp. At home, they've been pulling out photographs and mementos while reminiscing.

"I remember watching the coronation on a black and white television in Atlanta. I mostly grew up here which is why I don't have as much of an accent, but my mother really instilled the love of the queen in us," Sandra said.

"The whole family is royalists really. We've been talking on WhatsApp and looking at photos. These are all mugs that have been sent by the family. We request them," Ken said, picking up a mug emblazoned with the monarch's visage. "The silver jubilee ... we were there for that. We were knocking about with some folks, playing guitars, and they had the street parties."

But the connection goes deeper than souvenirs and soirees. Ken, who was a member of the First Royal Horse Artillery Regiment, took an oath to "be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II." Through that service, the commitment to queen and country runs even deeper.

"The guys who do the 21-gun salute, that was my regiment. I served in Yemen and Germany," he said. "But in America, soldiers swear an allegiance to the country ... we swore allegiance to the queen herself."

Like the Lees, the world seems to feel a profound sense of loss as new days dawn without the steadfast monarch. Her sense of grounded grace, honor and commitment to something greater than herself — the crown — seems to belong to a bygone era.

But the Lees are following her example, marching forward, supporting the new king, Charles III.

"We have a new king and new prime minister. The king now has got to meet the cabinet. So it's got to be sorted out ... and it will be," Ken said.