After a somberly momentous week of mourning a husband of nearly 74 years she called her “strength and stay,” this week Queen Elizabeth II turns 95, and we send not only our heartfelt condolences for her unthinkable loss, but also our gratitude and dare I say, love, for her lifetime of service.
The U.S., of course, separated itself from the British monarchy in 1776. Conflict between the countries has long since diminished to the point where their shared history and common heritage vastly outweigh any real differences that remain. In form, their systems have allowed us to enjoy the fascinating different interactions between presidents — only in office for a maximum of eight years — and a lifetime monarch.
By force of circumstance, Queen Elizabeth has been the provider of continuity: Her visits have ever provided a showcase of the enduring bond of the nations and the most important bilateral friendship there is — the Transatlantic Alliance.
In remarks delivered at Buckingham Palace in June 2019, when the Trumps visited, the queen commented on this directly: “Visits by American Presidents always remind us of the close and longstanding friendship between the United Kingdom and the United States, and I am so glad that we have another opportunity to demonstrate the immense importance that both our countries attach to our relationship.”
In our times of unprecedented social change, where even mainstream American institutions are found misguidedly apologizing for our great past, the queen burns brightly as a beacon in our minds of the endurance of the values core to the upbringing of most Americans: faith, patriotism, sacrifice and duty.
Though not our queen by constitution, we Americans too are grateful to have the constant of Elizabeth II in our lives. Most people alive today cannot recall a time before she reigned. From Harry S. Truman to Donald Trump, the queen has met all elected U.S. presidents except Lyndon Johnson. She is hands down the most coveted foreign visitor to any country.
The sheer scale of continuum that the queen has provided struck me while watching a lady very close to her 95th birthday laying to rest her spouse of 74 nearly years, a week after his passing, yet a week in which she had once more been at work “just buggering on,” as Churchill would have put it, or quietly getting on with the job as the great Prince Philip would have done, and always expected.
On her 21st birthday, Princess Elizabeth promised that her whole life, ”whether it be short or long” would be devoted to the service of the nation. How many listening to that pledge would have imagined just how fully she would deliver on it. The lives of the queen and her consort have been of priceless value not just to their nation but to the world. Some may muse that she might or should step aside: This just will not happen. Elizabeth II is resolute in her commitment to serve for life. The queen, head of the Church of England, will carry on.
In 1951, the year before Princess Elizabeth became queen, Truman was the first president to welcome Elizabeth and Prince Philip to America. Truman greeted the royal couple with an enthusiasm that the years have not dimmed: “… never before have we had such a wonderful young couple who have so completely captured the hearts of all of us. We want you to come back again …. I don’t know who the temporary occupants of the White House may be at that time. But you can be sure of this: No matter who they are, you and your family will always be welcome.”
So it has proved. The queen has never publicly regretted the sacrifice of the rest of us enjoy — a private life. As we saw last week, even mourning her beloved husband of 73 years was intruded upon by the glare of the cameras, but never to her benefit, only as exemplar and unifier to her country and us all.
Queen Elizabeth personifies her nation in a way that no elected official ever could. It is fascinating to observe how world leaders, especially U.S. presidents, react with awe in her presence. Her finely-honed diplomatic skills are steeped in goodwill rather than politics. Deploying these talents with grace, wisdom and dignity, she has been the best imaginable ambassador not just for her nation and the Commonwealth but for the values of dignified service to a higher ideal than any pursuer of personal aggrandizement wallowing in the swamp of celebrity (so called) culture.
On her 95th birthday, even as she mourns, we in America wish health, happiness and continued longevity to this remarkable lady who so resolutely carries on, regardless of the slings and arrows of fortune, or mere distractions of lesser bit part players coming and going. May God grant her many more years.
• Lee Cohen, a senior fellow of the Bow Group and the Danube Institute, was adviser on Great Britain to the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee and founded the Congressional United Kingdom Caucus.