If I ever doubted the conventional wisdom that Prince Philip was an afterthought, my reaction to his death confirmed it. I was immediately saddened for his wife of 73 years. Next, I wondered whether Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, would fly to England for the funeral. Only then did I remember I’d once met the prince.
His plummy accent and regal presence turned my arms into jelly. I couldn’t lift a piece of paper, let alone a 9-year-old human.
We weren’t formally introduced, but we had a brief encounter in 2005 during a royal visit to Edmonton, where I’d been living for 13 years. That was 10 longer than I’d planned when I moved to Canada so that my husband could complete a postdoctoral fellowship at his alma mater. Just like the prince, where I lived was directly tied to my spouse with the high-powered career. After more than a decade, I had accepted that Alberta was my home.
In yet another of the many coincidences that has convinced me there are no coincidences, I was scheduled to become a Canadian citizen the day after the royal tour. The ceremony required me to pledge my loyalty to Queen Elizabeth II. As long as she was in town, I figured I might as well see her in person.
My husband, who had seen Prince Charles and Princess Diana on a visit years earlier, bowed out. Our son, who was 7, dismissed it as a waste of time. “She’s just a person,” he said. He offered no opinion about Philip. Why would he? I hadn’t bothered to mention him.
Our daughter, Elizabeth, who was 9, was eager to see the most famous person who shared her name. Her friend Laura wanted to join us, as did Laura’s mom, Gail. The chances of us getting within arm’s length of the queen were remote, but I bought lilies so that the girls would have something to present to Her Majesty should the opportunity arise.
The royal appearance was to take place at Churchill Square in downtown Edmonton. The four of us set out nearly three hours before the event. The good spots along the rope line were already taken, but one of Gail’s friends, a security guard, pointed out an opening on the far side of the square.
Two hours later, the royals, accompanied by the mayor and his wife, made their entrance. I knew the mayor and his wife. They were members of my tiny synagogue. It hadn’t occurred to me that they would be center stage with the royal couple.
I could not believe how excited I was. To be just across a fence from mythical figures I’d seen only in photographs and news clips, being accompanied by people I knew, nearly took my breath away. There was no logic to it, but I was elated just the same.
Or at least, I was until it became clear that the queen wasn’t coming anywhere near us. She and the mayor stayed close to the side of the square where they’d entered. It was the mayor’s wife and the queen’s husband who faced the people on our side, the afterthoughts.
That’s when I made my move. It was instinctive, you might even say obnoxious.
“Hi Lynn,” I called out to the mayor’s wife.
She looked startled, trying to determine the source of the greeting. When she saw me waving, her face broke into a grin and she waved back. Philip looked confused. She said something to him. Then the two of them, accompanied by an official-looking man wearing some kind of British policeman’s hat, approached us.
I was dumbstruck. I’m not sure what I expected that morning, but it definitely wasn’t Prince Philip standing in front of me, looking down at my daughter with a big smile and issuing me an order.
“Lift her over the barricades,” he instructed.
His plummy accent and regal presence turned my arms into jelly. I couldn’t lift a piece of paper, let alone a 9-year-old human. The man with the hat, a bodyguard, reached over, scooped up Elizabeth, and deposited her into the VIP area.
I looked down at Laura. She knew she’d been overlooked. Unlike Philip, who was used to such treatment, she appeared on the verge of tears. I looked up at the prince. Our eyes met, and together traveled back down to Laura. He saw her expression. Maybe he recognized something in it.
“Lift her over the barricades, too,” he said.
Laura’s face brightened. She held her lilies higher. She held them so high that they came dangerously close to blinding the prince.
“Mind the eye,” he said, the last words he’d utter before he and Lynn moved down the rope line.
Elizabeth and Laura walked across the square to present their flowers to the queen. Gail and I tried not to hyperventilate.
When the four of us left the square moments after the girls returned, Gail and I collapsed onto a bench to collect ourselves.
That’s when I began second-guessing myself. I should have said something collegial to Philip. Perhaps “Thank you,” or “Welcome to Edmonton,” or “Tomorrow I become your wife’s loyal subject.”
I hoped he didn’t mind. Likely he was used to it; it was his lot in life after all, and he managed it with dignity. As he showed in that fleeting moment on a chilly May morning in Edmonton, he managed it with kindness and empathy, as well. May he rest in peace.