When I was a lad of only ten years the tannoy began to scratch in my classroom during my mid-morning lesson. The Principal of my primary school could be heard crying and announcing that President John F Kennedy had died in my city of Dallas, Texas.
All of our eyes were first transfixed upon the small tannoy box at the front of the classroom. However, following the Principal’s sad announcement our eyes turned to our teacher for further comfort. She too was now crying. A few minutes later the Principal returned to the tannoy to announce that our parents would soon come to school to collect us. Silently we filed out of the classroom and waited somberly in front of our school as a long cortege of automobiles arrived, paused, opened their doors, and we went to our homes to continue to mourn the passing of the President.
The skies were dark with heavy rain for one week. Because of the almost immediate murder of President Kennedy’s assumed assassin, there was a constant feeling of uncertainty in our city and home. Today, as the skies are once again dark and the haar is thick with grief, my thoughts turn to the loss of our Queen.
The sad death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, a wife, sister, mother, grandmother and great grandmother, stirs within me great empathy for her family. When my father died, dozens of co–workers visited my office to express their condolences. When my mother died, I was surprised that only a few people expressed their condolences to me. When I asked others why the death of a mother appeared to be different from the death of a father, one female colleague said “The death of a mother is so sad that it is unspeakable.”
The passing of Her Majesty shall be one of these moments in history when we remember for the rest of our lives our profound loss as well as what we may now find within ourselves and within one another. Regardless of individual political beliefs, the Queen enjoyed during her long reign great support from the majority of the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth and throughout the world, because of her constant devotion to duty and 70 years of service to others.
And whilst we have now lost the longest serving monarch in British history we may have also found within ourselves the ability to recognise and appreciate those noble values that many of us hope to pass on to future generations. In losing our Queen, we have the opportunity of rediscovering new ways to do our duty as citizens and members of the human family.
Seven years ago my wife and I officially became subjects of Her Majesty the Queen when we became British citizens. When one participates in the citizenship ceremony there is an opportunity to choose an Oath of Allegiance to the Queen, an Oath of Affirmation to the Queen, or a Pledge of Loyalty to the United Kingdom. I chose to recite the Oath of Allegiance to the Queen due to my respect for the woman who wore the Crown. However, I must now confess that silently in my heart I pledged my fidelity first and foremost to Scotland, my adopted country.
I had the opportunity to be in the same room with the Queen on only one occasion. However, she was of course, unforgettable. During the opening ceremonies for Queen Margaret University, I was a newly appointed Professor, freshly arrived from America, who watched with awe as she pulled a gold braided rope to open blue curtains revealing a plaque announcing that she had officially opened the University. As soon as she tugged at the rope it came apart from its mechanism and the audience gasped as the curtains remained closed. Undeterred, Her Majesty raised her hand and manually pushed the curtains wide open to reveal the plaque and the audience roared and with loud and sustained applause showed their respect and appreciation. As we used to say in Texas, this was not her first time at the rodeo.
A few minutes later the Queen was asked to sign the official guest book. She sat behind a small table and I was invited to stand directly behind her. She signed her name as Elizabeth II and then with a flourish added the R for regina. As she made this swooping sign with her right hand, I realised that although I had seen this scene in many historic films, I was now a personal witness to history and a chill rose up my spine.
There are few times during one’s lifetime of memories when we pause and remember all of the happy memories others have given us. This week is one of those times. I was born in 1952, the same year she became our Queen. She has been my companion for my entire life time and has given me and so many others many happy memories.
At her coronation she vowed that “Throughout all my life and with all my heart I shall strive to be worthy of your trust.” Therefore, I am reminded that in losing our Queen, I hope that I discover a renewed commitment to the values she cherished. Duty, fidelity, and service to others are not only her precious legacy to me, they are also an opportunity for all of us to embrace these values for the greater good of humankind.
Professor Joe Goldblatt is Professor Emeritus of Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, Scotland