Thousands of miles from their homeland, Britons living in the Inland Northwest keenly felt the loss of the only monarch they have ever known.
For some, the death of Queen Elizabeth II on Thursday meant the passing of an age.
“It’s very strange and very surreal,” said Spokane Symphony Music Director James Lowe, who grew up in northern England and still divides his time between Spokane and the British Isles.
“Everybody knew this day would come, but it does feel like an anchor has been lost,” Lowe said. “She had a special place in everyone’s heart.”
For Lowe, that special moment happened in the summer of 2012, when he attended a reception at the queen’s palace in Edinburgh, Scotland.
The room was filled with dozens of guests, yet Elizabeth II found time to speak to everyone. “And she asked really thoughtful questions,” Lowe said.
Addressing the young conductor, she asked him about the differences between leading a youth orchestra and the professional variety. The question left Lowe “feeling connected.”
“And she did that basically for 75 years,” Lowe said. “I think that’s really remarkable.”
The only thing missing from the encounter was a photo. “It wasn’t exactly a selfie opportunity,” Lowe said.
But for other immigrant Britons, images of the queen have lived in their hearts for decades.
Janet Watson, of Spokane, has lived the last 40 of her 68 years in the United States but said the queen was “still so dear in my heart.”
“It’s been there my whole life, like a presence that no matter what happens, she’s always been there,” said Watson, a member of a Facebook group of British natives living in the Inland Northwest.
That presence began before Watson was born and Elizabeth became queen in 1952. Watson fondly recalled her parents’ stories of then-Princess Elizabeth and her parents lifting the spirits of Britons during the bombings of World War II.
And though the queen’s death at age 96 wasn’t unexpected, Watson said it’s so hard now for her to be gone.
As the news spread Thursday morning, Watson contacted friends back home.
“It’s been tough for them,” she said.
Kym Schnauss, who recently moved to Spokane after 22 years in her native England, said she and her friends and family had always been impressed by the queen’s “devotion to duty and her going back to the old ages of the stiff upper lip.”
“I still really admire that,” said Schnauss, who grew up as a “big fan” of Princess Diana. Like millions of Britons, she despaired over Diana’s death in 1997, but appreciated the queen’s gestures during that crisis.
Lowe also recalled those days of a queen “who was so roundly loved, even by the people who wanted to do away with the monarchy.”
And Lowe hasn’t forgotten the scene in the family living room, when as a child he watched his grandparents stand in front of the television as the queen delivered her annual Christmas speech.
“She was always there, and it does seem like an anchor has been lost, because she had a place in everyone’s heart,” Lowe said.
Englishman Richard Elgar, a political science professor at Washington State University, admitted to being “not much of a monarchist,” but allowed that many royals, especially the queen, “have worked really hard, despite all their inherited wealth.”
Like others, Elgar worried about the future, which includes a struggling British economy, a fragmenting Commonwealth, and a new prime minister – Liz Truss, who was appointed only two days earlier.
And now the United Kingdom will be led by King Charles III, who took the crown upon the death of his mother.
“I think it’s going to be tricky,” Elgar said.
Watson replied with an “Oh, dear,” at the accession of Charles. “It’s never going to be the same,” she said.
Others were more optimistic.
“It’s impossible to follow her, but I do hope he’s going to be a very good monarch and I hope that he will bring everybody together,” Lowe said.
For Andrew Maslanka, an Englishman who moved to Spokane in 2017, some things will never change. That includes the tradition of the British monarchy.
“This is a sad day for the U.K., the Commonwealth and the world,” Maslanka said. “She was loved by the world and will be forever in our hearts.”
Then Maslenka found his own stiff upper lip: “As we look to the future, for king and country,” he said.
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