Queen Elizabeth’s recent passing has caused many of us to pause and reflect on what she has meant to each of us in our own lives. Clearly, I was no exception. Even though she was 96 years old and said to be in failing health, her death nevertheless shocked the world. She had always been there, and to lose her seemed almost impossible to comprehend.
In my life, I’ve had the good fortune to meet Her Majesty and other family members several times. I’ve met the Queen in Winnipeg, Toronto, and Windsor Castle. Every time was a moment to be treasured. Truthfully, meeting the Queen was above and beyond special to me. It was, for the most part, surreal and I was, admittedly, simply in awe.
One needs only look at videos of her meeting crowds in her walkabouts – young and old alike, men, women, disabled, veterans; no matter who or where – the faces of the people she met radiated with delight. I vividly recall every visit for several reasons. And each visit also had its funny moments (at least they are funny now!!).
In 1984, the black beavers had sex during the ceremony as they were being presented to Her Majesty at the Assiniboine Park Zoo!
While I was organizing the 2002 visit, I met several people who told me about Her Majesty’s visit to Winnipeg in 1951 as Princess. They remembered where they were when they saw her in the motorcade, what street they were on, what house they were in front of, was the Queen on their side of the car or was it Prince Philip? Did she see them? Did she wave? On and on it went. That seemed to be the norm. These memories reflected how deeply loved and admired she was and that even seeing her in person passing by in a car had an impact on them. Keep in mind this was over half a century after it happened!
In 2002 it was the famous (or infamous) boat incident that saw Her Majesty and Prince Philip floating adrift in a water taxi in the middle of the Red River. The water taxi story is one I have told many times – however; I will simply say once and for all – it was never my idea to have her in a water taxi!!
On that visit, Karen Bryk, the Deputy Chief of Protocol, RCMP member Ron Lowe, and I were honoured with a medal from the Queen. I received the LVO (Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order), Karen received the MVO (Member of the Royal Victorian Order) and Ron Lowe (who sadly passed away earlier this year) received the RVO (Royal Victorian Order).
In 2010, it was the weather. It was raining when Her Majesty touched down at our new (as yet unopened) airport, and then it abruptly stopped. After several stops, which included Government House, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and The Forks, it started to rain again the moment the Queen’s car door at The Forks was closed, and we were off to the 17 Wing Air Base to say our farewells.
It rained all the way to the base, and once again, it stopped as she arrived. After the farewells, she boarded the aircraft, and as the plane started to taxi down the runway, it began to rain, and this time it was a downpour.
On that visit and in Government House, I was given another honour from the Queen, the CVO, Commander of the Royal Victorian Order. Once the medal was firmly in my grasp – I said to the Queen, “Your Majesty, thank you for not mentioning the boat”. That sparked a good laugh with both the Queen and Prince Philip.
Also, in 2002 Premier Greg Selinger invited me to accompany him to Toronto, where Prime Minister Harper was having a state dinner in honour of Her Majesty’s visit. The dinner was, appropriately, in the Royal York Hotel. Unexpectedly, the power went out just before all the guests were waiting to meet The Queen and Prince Philip! Murphy’s Law was alive and well.
Food preparation stopped. The air conditioning shut down. The Queen could not take the elevator down to the reception and dinner as she was literally stuck in her room on one of the hotel’s top floors waiting for the power to come back on. After what seemed like an eternity, the power came back on.
It was at that event where, after being introduced to the Queen, she firmly grasped my hand, leaned towards me and quietly said, “Thank you for coming. I see you survived,” at which point she and Prince Philip started to laugh.
That was the last time I had had a chance to meet her. That moment, like all of them, is a memory I will carry with me and cherish for the rest of my life.
Since her passing, many media commentators and reports have described her as the most famous person in the world. I’m sure it is probably true.
Throughout her life billions have seen her on television or heard her on the radio. Millions of others worldwide have seen her in person at various special events, celebrations, Royal Balcony appearances and motorcades. The number of people who have actually met her is in the thousands.
I consider myself very fortunate to have been one of those who had the opportunity to meet Her Majesty and work on her last three visits to this province – in 1984, 2002 and 2010. The meetings all happened in my capacity as a provincial civil servant with the Government of Manitoba, first as the Radio and Television Coordinator with the Information Services Branch and then as Chief of Protocol for the last two visits. She was one of a kind, the likes of which we will not see again.
I should also mention that I’ve also had the good fortune to meet King Charles III. All while he was still a Prince. I believe he will pleasantly surprise and impress us all as he starts his new life as our Monarch and Head of State.
God save the King!
Dwight Macauley was the chief of protocol for the province of Manitoba. He also arranged for the delivery of 20 tones of steel from the downed Twin Towers to the International Peace Garden where nor it commemorates that awful event.