The first child of the Duke and Duchess of York enjoyed being queen for some 70 years — this despite becoming the monarch at the tender age of 25, propelled into the role in 1952 by the death of her beloved father at just 56 years old.

Queen Elizabeth II had such palpable fun in the job — watching prime ministers and presidents come and go. When her son, Prince Charles, told the British people recently that the thing that gets Elizabeth up in the morning was them, the statement did not feel even remotely disingenuous.

Clearly, it was the truth. You could usually read it on her face.

Another truth presented itself as the queen’s health declined. She was and is deeply loved by the people she pledged to serve and, at a minimum, was admired by many beyond that number.

That list included those who would not declare themselves monarchists if the topic of conversation involved any other monarch or progeny. You might say that the queen was grandfathered, or grandmothered, into a changing world.

The queen’s death was a shock in the way that death is almost always a shock, one all too familiar to anyone who has experienced bereavement. Bromides about how death is to be expected when a woman is 96, that there had been some time to prepare, that this was a life well lived, that none of us are here forever, did nothing to change that.

It never does in death. Many people’s minds went to how earlier in the week, Elizabeth had appointed Liz Truss as Britain’s new prime minister (the queen’s 15th), remarked upon the lousy Scottish weather and looked reasonably well. But that is what often happens; we are here one day and gone the next. Royalty is no protection from mortality.

But Elizabeth was not, of course, an ordinary citizen. She was the only queen most Britons ever had known. It is rare in Britain to meet someone who has a memory of George VI as monarch, although a few such souls remain.

Simply put, the queen, his daughter, represented continuity and security. She was still there, so the world could not have entirely gone to hell in a hand basket, people said. Political leaders came and went, often having disappointed. Elizabeth was so interwoven into the fabric of quotidian British life that her role as permanent (or so it seemed) head of state was, especially in recent years, mostly subsumed by personal affection.

Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was, in fact, so remarkably suited to her job that she almost certainly preserved the monarchy through the turbulent era, notwithstanding family members who often made her job more difficult.

The British people long ago figured out that even a life of such privilege would come to an end, that the decades-long procession of receiving lines, community centers to open, cruise ships to launch and plaques to unveil would have become wearisome. They knew what Elizabeth was doing, especially in her 90s, was simple hard work for a woman who might have preferred to have been resting with her beloved horses. But there was no retirement. She had vowed to serve her people for the entire span of her life and she never wavered from that determination.

Unlike her predecessor, the queen had to deal with the tabloid era and with editors who figured out that melodramatic family drama sold newspapers (for most of the queen’s reign) and then shares and clicks.

There was no playbook for any of that, and there were times when the queen stumbled, when her famous dislike of “fuss” and self-indulgence, read as a lack of feeling, especially when her people were in pain, as following the death of Princess Diana. Her default was to say little or nothing when division or controversy was a risk and that did not always serve her well.

But then few of us live perfect lives or avoid errors in a lifetime of work. Even fewer make no mistakes with family members. Elizabeth served her people with a level of commitment that forestalls all reasonable criticism of how she went about her prescribed duties. Her level of courage, whether it was remaining in London during World War II or through other exigencies in the decades that followed, was often overlooked.

There will be time to consider the future of the monarchy, the vacuum created by this sad exit and all it represents. The present is to mourn a woman whose global influence straddled two centuries and who did all that anyone could reasonably ask of any human in public service, anywhere in the world.

What a job well done. Godspeed to her.

This piece is by the Editorial Board of the Chicago Tribune. We share their sentiments.

Trending Video

Recommended for you