Upside Down Under
For the past several days the news has been dominated by the loss of Queen Elizabeth II, and rightfully so. She was probably the best known person on the face of the earth.
And while some people believe it has been overdone, there are plenty of Americans, plenty of North Dakotans, who have been mourning the queen just as the British have been doing.
You have to admit, 70 years on the throne is a remarkable achievement, one that quite possibly will never be duplicated. What struck me was the day after her passing, I saw a photo from October 1951 on the news of Princess Elizabeth sitting with President Harry Truman. Less than a year later the 26-year-old became monarch of the British Empire.
Some of us have a more personal connection to the queen. We may have seen her someplace during a visit to the United States or Canada. I had the opportunity to see Queen Elizabeth in May 2005 when she officially opened the Saskatchewan Centennial in Regina.
I spent 31 years as a news reporter and/or editor and hands down, that was the biggest story I’ve ever done as a journalist. I’ve covered Virgil Hill in boxing, I reported on an attempted murder and kidnapping trial, I’ve met five heads of state in my journalism career and also covered the Grey Cup, Canadian Football League championship, when the only American team in CFL history, the Baltimore Stallions, won the title in 1995.
But nothing comes close to that warm, spring day in Regina when Queen Elizabeth showed up at Parliament to open the centennial.
As you might imagine, there was a lot of pomp and circumstance. Bands playing, horse-drawn carriages, military salutes and politicians meeting with the monarch.
There were about 30,000 people on the parliament grounds when the queen and Prince Philip arrived to incredible cheers. Many had waited a long time. I got there grossly early so I saw the crowd fill in and build in a light rain.
A pool of reporters was set up, but it was only for Canadian and British journalists so I took a place at the front of the line in the crowd so I could get some decent pictures.
As the day unfolded, Saskatchewan Premier Lorne Calvert said a few words, then Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin spoke and introduced the queen and finally Queen Elizabeth spoke to the crowd. At that moment, I was able to snap a picture of the premier, the prime minister and the queen all on the same stage at the same time.
Following her speech, Elizabeth and Philip decided to meander through the crowd. They walked along a path in a garden of native plant species and came back around to the steps of parliament. They walked right past me and Queen Elizabeth was no farther than 3 feet from me when I snapped several photographs.
The next day, that photo and a major news story I had written was published on page 1 of the Minot Daily News. It didn’t occur to me at the time, but apparently, I had violated British protocol by photographing the queen from closer than 10 feet. But, oh my goodness, it’s a great photo and I still have that issue of the Daily News to remember that day.
Unfortunately, I was the only U.S. reporter at that event. Regina is so close to North Dakota, but no other American reporters decided to go to the opening. So, on the day my article was published, I began getting phone calls. One of them came from Rep. Earl Pomeroy who said he didn’t know the queen was going to be in Regina.
I had learned of her visit months before it happened. I simply called the British Consulate in Ottawa and was quickly granted press credentials, not only to cover the opening of the centennial, but to attend a reception for the queen in a Regina hotel. I missed the reception because I had to drive the 250 miles back to Minot and file my story before deadline.
It was an incredible day, one of those days of fond memories that is rare in a journalist’s career.
All I can say is during the entire visit of which I witnessed, the queen was so gracious, so polite and so at home in Regina, it was as if she belonged there.
The world is going to miss this wonderful lady for a long time.