Historical Reminiscing with Robert B. Hitchings
Copyright. All rights reserved.

Remembering Queen Elizabeth II

We all were shocked when we heard the sad news of the passing of Queen Elizabeth II (1926-2022). I was stunned like so many when I heard the sad news. However, in reality we all felt like she would go on forever. She was a reserved monarch who never showed emotions in public. She never complained nor ever explained. I truly felt like I had lost an old wonderful relative, and yet I had never met this grand old lady. But I did see her several times in public. She was a queen who had been with us for a very long time. But looking back, I can remember when my grandmother told me how many were shocked and very sad when Queen Victoria passed away after a long reign of 60+ years. Queen Elizabeth II was the only Queen of England that we all grew up with and have always known.

As the longest reigning monarch in British history, she served for 70 years and was the only queen many people knew in their lifetime. More than that, she was loved, respected and revered around the world.

I came from an anglophile family that always seemed to support the monarchy. We always had a special reference for the queen. I cannot remember a time in my life that the Royals were not brought up at the kitchen table at my house. And many family members took a trip to England after high school or college.

Interestingly, my ancestor, George Hitchins (1741-1800) from the Eastern Shore, Virginia, who lived in Norfolk County was a loyalist. He did not go along with this revolution. It took our family another generation to realized we were a republic and that was in the War of 1812.

My mother use to say, “I had to give up my job during the Great Depression when I married your father in November 1936. The King of England, King Edward the VIII had to give up the throne to marry, “the woman he loved, Wallis Simpson.” In those day, a woman would lose her job once she got married. The man was the bread winner during those depression days.

When I entered the first grade at Larchmont Elementary School a girl named Connie brought to Show & Tell her Queen Elizabeth doll in full wedding dress. Someone in her family brought home a nice souvenir for her.

In October 1957, the Queen came to Jamestown, Virginia. Yes, I was there with my cousins. Before the Queen arrived at Jamestown, my cousin Hunter Joyce was very energetic and decided to get us all some drinks. When Hunter was about to leave the confession stand, she had 6 soft-drinks and realized she only had two hands. A kindly, middle-aged man noticed her and decided to help this little girl out by taking a few of the drinks in his hands. He had a gray suit on and whispered to Hunter’s mother a few words. I remember Mrs. Eugenia Portlock Joyce bobbing her head up and down. My Aunt Elvie H. Butt had bought me a three-corner Jamestown hat for the occasion which I wore. After drinking my soda, I looked up and there was the Queen with our governor. She was quite small, very young and wore a dark blue coat. As she was shaking hands with so many, a group of young school girls and boys were presented to her. To our astonishment, I looked up and there was Hunter in line shaking hands and making a small curtsy to the Queen. That man who had helped her with the drinks was one of the men from the British Embassy. Hunter, my cousin got to meet the Queen of England.

In May 1960, I was in third grade with Mrs. Roberta H. Ives at Carolton Oaks Private School, now Norfolk Colegate, when Queen Elizabeth II's sister Princess Margaret Rose married Anthony Armstrong-Jones. All the students were ushered into the Television room to see the wedding broadcast from Westminster Abbey. I remembered Mr. Theodore (Ted) Forte, music director saying, “Princess Margaret does not look like a horse compared to her sister.”

Years later, I was at Oxford, England, for a semester at Westminster-Brook College. I happened to be in London at the opening of Parliament. The streets were lined with people. All traffic stopped. The first limousine that came by had the ceremonial crown that she would wear at the opening of Parliament. Lots of people lined the street. I have never seen so many horses in my life and one could hear the hooves on the pavement coming down the street. The sound was so uncanny, but simply lovely. With so many people around, I felt like a sardine in a small can, I noticed that I was standing next to the lamp post. So I eyed-balled this lamppost and shimmed myself up a few feet. With one arm hanging, my legs wrapped around the post I had the perfect view when he Queen came by. As she approached she saw me and our eyes made contact. I gave her a huge wave which she noticed. I am sure she turned to Prince Phillip and said, “Look at one of my loyal subjects."

In June of 2002, I was in England to celebrate the 50th Jubilee of her majesty. I was on the side with friends along the Mall when she rode by in King George III's golden coach called the coronation coach. She had a beautiful blue dress and she looked radiant. Everyone was so nice to me that day. And the parades that day were fantastic. Al the workers marched (teachers, medical personal, fireman, police, etc.) to pay homage to this monarch. I remembered the Hells Angels came roaring up to see her majesty. They all stopped, removed their gold helmets, did a bow and proceed down the road. The Queen and her family laughed and laughed. It was priceless. The whole crowd roared. They even had their wheels (spokes) painted gold. She loved it!

In May 2007, her majesty came to Williamsburg, Virginia. This was to celebrate the 400th Anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, Virginia. Our friend, David Brown, my wife, Cef, and I went to see the Queen Ride down Duke of Gloucester Street as she did 50 years ago in 1957. She was stunning! Yes, she and Phillip were together and she smiled and waved to all of us who lined the street. This was the high-light for my wife for she got to see Queen Elizabeth II of England.

In June 2012, I found myself in England again this time with my co-worker Kevin Geisert, a fellow librarian. We were along the river bank when she came on her special ship, and so many boats, all shapes and sizes, were there and it was a beautiful Royal pageant on the Thames. This was her Diamond Jubilee and she was stunning. Both she and Phillip never sat down. This was a great armada of boats and ships celebrating her 60 years on the throne.

Queen Elizabeth was a steady and dedicated queen who rarely made a mistake. As the years have gone by, she became a popular monarch all over the world. One could see this at her beautiful 70th Platinum Jubilee. She is the only queen that’s been on the throne for 70 years.

She went through 15 prime ministers and 14 American presidents.

By the time of her death she was beloved by her subjects and admired by so many around the world. The outpouring of grief was felt by millions that filed by her casket in Westminster’s Hall built in 1097. She was a good queen. She will be missed.

May flights of angles sing thee to thou rest? “
William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Robert B. Hitchings is a seventh generation Norfolk resident, graduating with an Associate's Degree in Biology from Old Dominion University and BA in history from Virginia Wesleyan University. During his studies he was awarded a scholarship at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, England, and he was an exchange student at Brooks-Westminster College, Oxford, England. From 1999-2014 he worked as head of the Sargeant Memorial History Room at Norfolk Public Library, and since then has headed the Wallace History Room at Chesapeake Public Library. He is also the President of the Norfolk County Historical Society, and for six years was a columnist for The Virginian-Pilot. Robert may be reached at nchs.wallaceroom@gmail.com