I’m writing this column less than 24 hours after the breaking news of the Queen’s passing. By the time you read this, some weeks hence, it’s possible we’ll have a better perspective on what can only be called the end of an era. But as I write this, we’re still reeling from the sad tidings. I suppose we should not be surprised. She was 96 after all and still serving her people and nation nearly every day. Yet I, for one, was shocked when the news broke. I’d seen her photograph with the newly named Prime Minister Liz Truss just two days earlier, and while the Queen seemed frail, she was standing and smiling and certainly did not look as if the end were near. I think it’s because she has always been there in my lifetime, and it seemed she always would be.
I was born in 1959, seven years after Elizabeth became Queen. Late this year I will turn 63 – still a shock to my system to acknowledge this as fact – so the Queen, day in and day out, has kept calm and carried on through all those years, 70 years in fact, if you’re keeping track. An astonishing achievement and an even greater commitment to her duties as sovereign. I retired to write full-time back in March at 62. The Queen worked another 34 years past my current age until she was 96! Extraordinary.
I’m not an ardent monarchist and I never have been. I’m also well aware of the need for us to reconsider and reconcile the costs of the colonialism that flourished in the last century, its waning days under Elizabeth’s tenure. But a more enlightened approach still leaves plenty of room to marvel at the Queen’s remarkable record of service over 70 years. Her reign is without precedent.
When I started at Bessborough School in Grade 1, our family having just moved to Leaside, I well remember the portraits of Queen Elizabeth hanging in the school and often in the classroom, too. In fact, I think, though I’m not certain, that we sang God Save the Queen in the mornings back then, though it probably wasn’t that long before we switched to O Canada. So, we all knew who the Queen was and what she looked like. She was just part of our lives.
In the wake of her passing, many commentators and Royal insiders have talked about the Queen’s sense of humour. While not always, or even often, on display in her Royal duties, it is clear that she was witty and liked a good laugh. Knowing the crises that afflicted England during her reign, from World War II to the Irish ‘troubles,’ from bitter labour strife to Princess Diana’s sudden death, I can only imagine how important humour was to her and the English people as a way to cope, inject perspective, and persevere. Humour is not just a laugh at someone else’s expense, it’s a defence against the tragedies and misfortunes that are visited upon us over our lives. Humour is part of surviving and surmounting all that life throws in our path. I think the Queen understood this.
Now, watching videos of the Queen where her sense of humour was on full display, like when Daniel Craig (aka James Bond) and she make a grand entrance at the opening of the London Olympics, or when she enjoyed tea with Paddington Bear at Buckingham Palace, they make me laugh and sad at the same time. As we begin a new era, one without the only Queen (the only monarch!) most of us have ever known, let us remember her not just as an exemplary and dedicated leader, but also as a human being who enjoyed life and a laugh even as she steadfastly pursued her path of public service. Through it all, she led by example, and what more can we ask?
A two-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, Terry Fallis grew up in Leaside and is the award-winning writer of eight national bestsellers. His most recent, Operation Angus, is in bookstores. You can also subscribe to his newsletter: https://terryfallis.substack.com.