By Don Keelan
Great Britain citizens completed the formal funeral ceremonies for the long-reigning British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II.
Countless hours of TV coverage and daily front-page stories were devoted to the Queen’s death and the impact of her 70-year tenure on Great Britain and the world. In describing her reign, some media accounts read as if they are referencing a long-time athlete’s scorecard: she met 13 U.S. Presidents, 14 British Prime Ministers, and seven Popes, visited over 100 countries, and about 90% of today’s world population was not born when she ascended the throne in 1952 at the age of 26. All ‘world records,’ but they don’t define the uncommon virtues Queen Elizabeth II possessed and projected.
One was in June of 2012, in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The setting: a cultural event at a local theater. The Queen entered the lobby, and several dignitaries formed a receiving line. One such person was Martin McGinness, serving as Northern Ireland’s deputy First Minister. A handshake and a photograph of the greeting instantly circled the world. Why?
Thirty-three years earlier, Mr. McGinness was a high-ranking leader of the Irish Republican Army, commonly known as the IRA. History notes that in August of 1979, he was a planner of the bomb explosion that occurred off Ireland’s southern coast. The bomb destroyed the yacht that Lord Louis Mountbatten was sailing. Lord Mountbatten, the Burma Campaign leader in WWII and the uncle of the Queen’s husband, Prince Phillip, was killed along with several other Royals.
Lord Mountbatten was very special to the Queen; when she was 13 years old, he introduced her to his nephew and her future husband, Prince Phillip. The handshake signified the Queen’s recognition that the ‘Troubles’ in Ireland were now over. Her ceaseless dignity showed the world that peace between the IRA and her country was far more critical than any bitterness or resentment she might harbor.
The Queen lived through the horror that WWII brought to England and many of its Commonwealth countries. During her reign, she visited and hosted the leaders of the former Axis countries and received the leaders of Japan, Germany, and Italy with grace and dignity. All three countries are significant allies of Great Britain today.
The Windsor Castle burial vault has been closed. Unfortunately, my pessimistic side believes that we will forget the praises bestowed upon Queen Elizabeth II in the weeks and months to come.
What should be the takeaway from all we saw and read about the Queen’s passing? It is the needful return of dignity to our national, state, and local government offices and the individuals who hold such offices.
If a common thread exists, it is the lack of respect given to those who serve, and the lack of dignity too often manifested by those who serve in public office. Could dignity possibly return to our electoral process? If so, would more be willing to have their name on the ballot?
A quote I heard from a British official is appropriate today: “ We may have lost the sound of her voice but not the scale of her deeds.”
Is it any wonder that hundreds of thousands of mourners waited 24 hours in lines stretching for miles during the four days of public viewing at Westminster Hall to pay their last respects to Queen Elizabeth II? The queen has been laid to rest. What she stood for has not: the personification of dignity.
Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington, Vermont.