In 1998, I assumed the chairmanship of the House Appropriations Committee, with the responsibility of sponsoring and overseeing Virginia’s multi-billion dollar budget. When I took over the helm of this panel, I discovered that my duties would extend beyond such mundane tasks as spending taxpayers’ money; I was now by statute a trustee of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, a state agency established in 1956 to plan and coordinate the 350th anniversary in 1957 of the settlement of Jamestown, the first permanent English colony in the New World. Queen Elizabeth II visited Virginia that year, in her first state visit to the United States.
Now, I am serving, as co-chairman of the Foundation, to celebrate Virginia’s 400th anniversary, and to welcome the Queen back to our Commonwealth. My wife Yvonne and I had the unique and rewarding experience of playing an integral role in Her Majesty’s visit to Richmond, Williamsburg, and Jamestown this past week.
IT WAS AN HISTORIC two days, beginning with the arrival of the Queen, and her consort, The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, to the grounds of the newly-renovated Virginia Capitol, amidst the cheers of thousands of slightly soggy but enthusiastic admirers of the Royal Family.
In the meanwhile, Yvonne and I were ensconced in the Governor’s mansion, along with about 30 invited guests, including Gov. Tim Kaine and the First Lady Anne Holton, six former Governors and their spouses, including First Lady Anne Holton’s mother, Jinx, who, although a little north of 70, was on crutches from a recent ski accident. Also present were the Speaker of the House Bill Howell, Senate President pro tempore John Chichester, my co-chairman of the Foundation, Sen. Tommy Norment, and their wives. U.S. Sen. John Warner, accompanied by his wife Jeanne, was also present, the senator having welcomed the Queen to Virginia in 1976 in his capacity then as chairman of the US Independence Bicentennial Commission. (I must add that I also had the honor of meeting the Queen that year at Monticello.)
As we waited somewhat nervously, we nibbled on hors d’oeuvres, catered by the Inn at Little Washington, and received instructions on where to stand, and what to say and do. Groups of six were arranged under various portraits throughout the mansion, having been advised that the Queen was to extend her hand first, that Prince Philip generally walked with his hands behind his back, and that a curtsy or a bow was not expected from an American, although such gestures remain optional.
We lingered, until suddenly a hush came over the hallway and the rooms of the mansion as the Queen and Prince Philip made their entries.
THE QUEEN, dressed in a pale lavender coat dress with strawberry rose trim — and of course with hat to match — looked, well, very much like a queen. With a flawless complexion that can only be achieved by living in the British Isles, a strong walk, and a dignified smile, she and the Prince shook hands with everyone as Governor Kaine and the First Lady introduced us to them. A little small talk ensued, and the Royal couple exited the Mansion for a “walkabout” on the Capitol grounds, appearing to enjoy the enthusiasm of the crowds.
Yvonne and I returned to the Capitol to await the arrival of the Queen and Prince Philip to the House of Delegates chamber for a joint session with the Virginia House and Senate. Yvonne had a birds’ eye seat in the Gallery. I was seated in my customary back row chair on the center aisle where the Queen passed to a standing ovation from all present, including the chiefs of Virginia’s Indian tribes, who were seated behind me in full regalia.
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh proceeded to the rostrum, to the thunderous applause of the members and dignitaries present. The Queen delivered a seven minute address, which started with expressions of sadness and sympathy for the tragedy at Virginia Tech, followed by very gracious remarks on the significance of the events in Jamestown in world history. Following her speech, she stepped down from the podium, refusing offers of assistance from the Governor.
Then, it was on to Williamsburg for the royal party and for those of us involved with the festivities there and at Jamestown.
EARLY ON FRIDAY morning, we began to assemble at the Jamestown Settlement, where invited guests mingled with costumed interpreters and re-enactors who do so much to bring the Jamestown settlement story alive. Once again, we waited and waited, anxiously watching the cloudy sky. (No umbrellas were permitted.)
Senator Norment and I, together with a handful of Jamestown officials, were then whisked off to a holding area to await the arrival of Vice President Richard Cheney and his wife Lynn. In the meanwhile, Yvonne chattered with Justice Sandra Day O’Conner, the honorary chairman of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation.
The Vice President arrived before the Queen, and after introductions I presented him with a gift from the Foundation, a set of silver cuff links bearing the seal of the Virginia Company of London, founded in 1606, to organize and finance the colonization of the New World.
Shortly thereafter, the royal party arrived, pleasantries were again exchanged, and Senator Norment and I escorted the dignitaries to the podium at the Jamestown settlement. For this occasion, the Queen wore a turquoise coat dress with, of course, a matching hat.
Brief remarks were made by Justice O’Connor, and by the Vice President, whereupon the Queen was given a tour of the reconstructed fort at Jamestown, while I escorted Prince Philip to a replica of the Susan Constant, one of the three ships that had made the five month voyage to America 400 years ago. The Prince, a former member of the Royal Navy, was both inquisitive and knowledgeable on marine matters, and appeared to be very interested in the replicas. (I used my former Coast Guard experiences to appear equally knowledgeable, though I don’t know if I was successful.)
OUR NEXT STOP was to the restored Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg, for an “intimate lunch”, that is, about 400 guests or so, in the gardens of the Governor’s Palace. Under a 200-foot long canopied tent, which even included a string of chandeliers, we dined on salad of heirloom tomatoes, asparagus, and Virginia country ham, Chesapeake rock fish, and a lemon tart. On a dais slightly above us, the Queen and the Prince dined with Governor Kaine, First Lady Holton, and the president of The Williamsburg Foundation, Colin Campbell, and his wife. Among those present at this, and other events, was Foundation trustee and state Sen. Janet Howell, and her husband Hunt.
As always, Governor Kaine spoke for all of us when he again thanked the Queen for her presence, and reminded us that we would always remember this day. The Queen, who had changed into a soft lavender coat with a floral dress, and another spectacular lavender hat with blue trim, spoke a few gracious words of thanks. Mr. Campbell then gave a toast to the Queen, and we all stood and raised our champagne glasses with enthusiasm: To the Queen!
A small group of us then repaired to the College of William and Mary, where we were the guests of our good friend Gene Nichol, the president of the college. The Queen was welcomed there by thousands of enthusiastic college students and faculty and was made an honorary student of the class of 2007.
For us, our time with the Queen was over and we returned to McLean for our own Kentucky Derby party.
VIRGINIA’S 400TH celebration continues with the Anniversary Weekend this coming Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, which will feature an address by President George W. Bush on Sunday. Other events will follow through the rest of the year.
As I complete my 40 years of service in the oldest legislative body in the Western Hemisphere — thus serving Virginia for one-tenth of the time it has been in existence, I take great satisfaction and pride, as the great grandson of an Irish immigrant, to be able to greet the reigning monarch of Great Britain and to play such a key role in these festivities. (By way of full disclosure, I should note that my mother was from solid English stock, whose forebears arrived in Maryland in the latter 17th and early 18th centuries.)
(Prepared with assistance from Yvonne DeBruyn Callahan.)