Tribute to a Queen

Good morning and welcome back to school. After two weeks off, it may have been a little rough getting out of bed early on this January morning, but I’m glad you made the effort!

January, as Ms. Erb might remind us, is named in honour of the Roman god Janus, the god of doorways and therefore transitions; he is depicted as having two heads, so that he is always looking both forward and backward.

Looking backward for just a second, consider all that took place in the world in the year 2011. TIME magazine summed it all up by saying it was The Year of the Protestor.

No one knows what 2012 has in store for any of us, but there is one story that will get a lot of play next month. In February, Queen Elizabeth will celebrate her Diamond Jubilee. Her 60 years on the throne is the 2nd longest reign ever by a British monarch, and if she continues in her role through 2015 –and why shouldn’t she — she will then surpass Queen Victoria as longest reigning monarch in history.

Queen Elizabeth also happens to be married to Prince Phillip, who is UCC’s official “Visitor.” The Board of Governors honoured the Prince by naming the area that is now the Student Centre after him, where the school displays his portrait, his personal flag, and a bronze plaque that commemorates the naming in 1979. As a result, even an outsider like me feels a certain “Bertie Wooster-like” connection to the House of Windsor!

In his new book, “The Real Elizabeth,” Andrew Marr reminds us that world’s most famous woman was only 25 and in Kenya on a state visit when she learned that her father, King George VI, had died at the age of fifty-six.

She didn’t make a scene. She simply apologized that the tour had to be cancelled, and went about her business of becoming a monarch. When her plane returned to England, Prime Minister Winston Churchill greeted her on the tarmac, and since that day, her life has been consumed by the demands of her position.

Marr believes that Elizabeth has a religious sense of vocation, and it’s worth noting that, while she agreed to have her coronation televised, she insisted that the cameras not film the moment when she was anointed with holy oil by the Archbishop of Canterbury. She wanted the “God moment” to be a private and personal one.

As Queen of the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia, and as head of the Commonwealth, Elizabeth II represents 1/3 of the globe’s population. She has travelled the world, and even in her 80’s , she continues to meet with ministers and diplomats on a regular basis.

I confess that I am a late arriving member of the Queen’s fan club. When I was younger, I thought she was a bit stiff, even in a land known for its firm upper lips. (Forgive me!) Over time, though, I have come to appreciate the fact that the Queen represents all that is good about tradition. She is deliberately untrendy. I like to think of her as the antidote to Paris Hilton, and I am delighted that I’ve never seen the Queen weep openly with Ellen, or watched her bare her soul and or reveal her innermost anxieties on Oprah’s couch.

I am sure there are times when the Queen does weep. After all, she lost a King, a Queen, and a Princess, when her father, mother, and only sister passed away, and she has had to watch as 3 of her 4 children went through very public and very painful divorces. Through all of this, the Queen has endured.

This sense of forbearance is no accident. During World War 2, as London was being blitzed, her father insisted on staying put at Buckingham Palace, and despite the dangers, so did his daughters. No one would have blamed any of them for moving to a more secure location; after all, 40,000 Londoners would perish during the bombing raids. But the Windsors held their ground, and in fact, Elizabeth contributed directly to the war effort by training as a driver and mechanic.

I have a “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster in my office. The originals were displayed in London during the blitz as a way of rallying the collective resolve. It is hard to imagine anyone who more fully embodies this solid and sober sensibility than does the Queen.

You do not need to be a monarchist to have an appreciation for what Elizabeth Windsor has brought to her role as Head of State in terms of leadership and service to her people. Over the course of 60 years, the Queen has outlasted 12 prime ministers, 12 presidents, and 6 Popes. She has done her duty and so much more.

Being “steadfast” is a wonderfully old fashioned virtue. It is about ignoring the tenor and trends of the present, having a spine of steel, and possessing an unwavering sense of resolve.

In a boys’ school where we talk quite unashamedly about leadership, we could all learn a lot about this topic by studying the life of a remarkable 85-year-old British woman.

As we start this first day of school in the first month of the year, I hope that as we look backward and forward, the Queen might inspire all of us to be steadfast in fulfilling the duty to which each of us is called.

God Save the Queen!


4 thoughts on “Tribute to a Queen

  1. Jim – good stuff but you may have to forfeit your spot at the St. Paddy’s Day parade in Southie this year. If I had been alive in the late 1860s I would have been a member of the Fenian Brotherhood and invaded Canada.

    Large quantities of arms were purchased, and preparations were openly made by the Roberts faction for a co-ordinated series of raids into Canada, which the United States government took no major steps to prevent. Many in the U.S. administration were not indisposed to the movement because of Britain’s failure to support the Union during the civil war. Roberts’ “Secretary for War” was General T. W. Sweeny, who was struck off the American army list from January 1866 to November 1866 to allow him to organize the raids. The purpose of these raids was to seize the transportation network of Canada, with the idea that this would force the British to exchange Ireland’s freedom for possession of their Province of Canada. Before the invasion, the Fenians had received some intelligence from like-minded supporters within Canada but did not receive support from all Irish Catholics there who saw the invasions as threatening the emerging Canadian sovereignty.

  2. Jim,

    I am a shameless royalty groupie! But in all seriousness, I have watched Elizabeth closely over these last 15 years and have been awed by her dignity, intelligence and courage. She truly raises “duty” to an amazing virtue in a time when “duty” is often assumed to indicate docility and a lack of imagination.

    Blessings in this new year!

  3. Nice post. At a recent occasion (her 60th wedding anniversary?) the Queen remarked that her first Prime Minister (Churchill) had participated in the last cavalry charge in the Empire at the Battle of Omdurman, while her most recent (Blair) was born the year that she ascended the throne. Quite a slice of history.

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