To the Queen, on her 70 years of inspiring the world
Today marks a significant milestone in the life of a woman who has been a constant in the lives of nearly everyone in the world. Queen Elizabeth becomes the first British monarch to celebrate a platinum jubilee — 70 years on the throne. As Americans, she’s not our queen, but in a sense, Elizabeth II transcends national borders. She is the world’s queen, whose example these seven decades is matchless, and whose value in our turbulent times is more evident than ever.
Over the course of her reign, Queen Elizabeth has had a particularly singular relationship with the United States, having hosted and received hospitality from every U.S. president with the exception of Lyndon Johnson. Her first stateside visit occurred in 1951, before she became queen, when Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip were guests at the White House of President Truman. Biden is the 13th president to have met the queen.
Naturally, she has had different chemistry with each president, and while discretion prevented it from ever being stated, it is widely believed that Ronald Reagan was her favorite. Her admiration led to his receiving an honorary knighthood in 1989. George H.W. Bush was the only other presidential knighthood recipient during her reign.
For U.S. presidents, like all world leaders, meeting the queen is perhaps the most sought-after of diplomatic receptions. Certainly this is no accident. Having met the queen in 2007 during her state visit to Washington, when I advised Congress on U.S.-U.K. affairs, I can attest that meeting her was a memorable encounter. Considering all the nations that have rolled out the red carpet for her, the queen is clearly a coveted visitor.
This is so not merely because of her unique position and title, but also because of Elizabeth’s personal qualities that cause many to hold her in esteem. During her years on the throne, she has consistently championed the best human virtues: faith in God, love of country, love of animals, commitment to duty. It would be difficult to find a finer living example of humanity than this British monarch.
In word and deed, the queen reminds us of what is important in life. Her words trigger a connection and emotion — as when she reminded everyone during the difficult moments of the pandemic: “We will meet again.”
So, too, the queen’s integrity, discretion and lifelong commitment to her 15 Commonwealth realms are particular antidotes to the political division plaguing America and the resulting disintegration of trust in its public institutions. Britain has a head of nation who can speak with authority and trust, one who projects stability that few politicians can duplicate.
We should look to her example for living through adversity and emerging with grace. “Keep calm and carry on” might be her watchword. From the post-war ravages experienced by 1950s Britain through the contemporaneous tribulations of some royal family members, the queen has acted as a model of stoicism and bravery. When other public figures and celebrities collapse under pressure, she keeps her composure.
Queen Elizabeth has enjoyed remarkable longevity. In a society that is obsessed with youth, she has held the same job for 70 years and remained relevant. Politicians come and go, but she prevails. Indeed, one has the sense we almost couldn’t live without her.
Yet she has not done it alone. The queen was blessed to have at her side, until his death last year, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, an indispensable partner to whom she referred as her “strength and stay.” She also was influenced by parents who endeared themselves to the nation during World War II, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Londoners during The Blitz, refusing to decamp to safer quarters even when Buckingham Palace was bombed.
The queen’s resolution to carry on, even as she has outlived her most trusted confidants, makes her all the more valuable as an example; we will all, inevitably, experience loss.
Elizabeth’s years on the throne are a remarkable achievement. For those of us who have never known a time before this queen, this milestone is a thought-provoking occasion for reflection — not only on the past, but of the legacy of an inspiring person and its significance for the future. May God grant the queen many more, and happier, years. She certainly has earned them.
Lee Cohen, a senior fellow of the United Kingdom’s Bow Group and the Bruges Group, was adviser on the U.K. to the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee and founded the Congressional United Kingdom Caucus. Follow him on Twitter @LeeLeesco3.