Across metro Atlanta, queen draws praise: ‘We won’t see her like again’

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Queen Elizabeth will be laid to rest Monday alongside her parents and her husband, Prince Philip

The 1996 Summer Olympics were a more than a year away when the Atlanta-based British consulate general had a proposal:

Why not hold a garden party to honor the British athletes who’d be coming to Atlanta for the games? It would be a fundraiser as well as a celebration, strengthening the ties between Great Britain and the people who would host its Olympians. Oglethorpe University, with its gothic architecture and brilliant-green grounds, would be a perfect stand-in for an estate in the mother country.

But what about the royals? Getting Queen Elizabeth II to travel across an ocean for a fundraiser didn’t seem likely. The consulate’s office did the next-best thing. It turned to Fay Selvage. Could she attend, as a queen look-alike, and add to the royal atmosphere?

“My first thought was, ‘Can’t you get someone else?’” the Buckhead resident recalled. Then she laughed. “But I had the hats and the gloves.”

Selvage would go on to impersonate the queen several times in the ensuing years. It always pleased Selvage to honor someone who, like her, survived the Blitz in London during World War II.

She doesn’t plan on impersonating Elizabeth anymore following the 96-year-old monarch’s death on Sept. 8.

“I will miss her so much,” said Selvage, 89. “We won’t see her like again.”

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

The queen is to be buried Monday. Her funeral will take place at Westminster Abbey, where she wed Prince Philip in 1947. The 11 a.m. ceremony – 6 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time – will be broadcast on several American networks as well as livestreamed.

The interment at St. George’s Chapel will be the last trip for a monarch known around the globe, who, in her royal capacity, journeyed to nations large and small.

The funeral honors a leader who served 70 years. No other British monarch occupied the throne that long. Her reign spanned 14 U.S. presidencies, from Harry S. Truman to Joe Biden. Fifteen British prime ministers –from Winston Churchill to Liz Truss, formally appointed two days before the queen’s death – served while Elizabeth was queen. If the world’s collection of luminaries included a North Star, it was Elizabeth –permanent and steadfast. Or so it seemed.

England now has a new head of state. For 73 years, he was known as Prince Charles. Now, he is King Charles III.

ExploreWhen is the funeral for Queen Elizabeth II?

The king assumes a throne in a nation facing high inflation. To the east, in mainland Europe, the war between Ukraine and Russia continues unabated. Great Britain is facing an energy-supply problem.

There are, as always, people who question the role of the royals in a changing world. Others grumble about the nation’s imperial past. For now, they’re drowned out by a louder chorus:

The queen is dead. Long live the king.

‘End of an era’

Not long after the queen had died, officials at the British Consulate General’s offices got busy. The Atlanta location announced that it had placed a condolences book in the lobby of the Georgia-Pacific Center downtown, where the consulate is located. It also announced the consulate would be closed on Monday, a day of mourning.

Not far away, at the Capitol, Gov. Brian Kemp issued a statement extolling the queen; Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens did the same. A former president who met the queen, Jimmy Carter, expressed remorse over her death.

The demise of the queen – who last visited the United States in 2007, when she participated in the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, Va., North America’s first permanent settlement – prompted reactions across the metro area, too.

ExplorePhotos: London pays respect to Queen Elizabeth II

Rukhsana Aguilar was just a little girl when she and her classmates performed a play at Buckingham Palace. Her majesty attended. Young Rukhsana was starstruck.

“I don’t remember what the play was. It was just a little thing,” said Aguilar, 59. “But I remember her.”

Aguilar owns Taste of Britain, a downtown Norcross store that sells food, apparel and other goods from her native country. Union Jacks line its walls. Tea pots fill its shelves.

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Elizabeth’s death, she said, has prompted a flurry of sales on goods featuring the late queen’s likeness. Items commemorating the Platinum Jubilee, the February celebration commemorating the queen’s seven decades on the throne, have been especially popular, she said.

Her reaction when she learned England had lost its long-serving monarch?

“Devastation,” she said. “Sadness. I certainly can’t imagine anyone else on that throne.”

Ella Beth Villaroto has not always agreed with the British empire’s treatment of its Commonwealth nations. A self-described “lefty,” she’s questioned the role Great Britain has played in her native Australia.

Still, “it’s been a little sad with the passing of the queen,” said Villatoro, 31.

She and her husband, Tony, were strolling in downtown Norcross just days after the queen’s death. They’d come to the square to see the Atlanta British Car Fayre, an event that adopted the old spelling of “fair.”

Credit: Mark Davis

Credit: Mark Davis

The Norcross residents stopped to admire a Rolls-Royce, long and gray and elegant. Beside the Rolls stood a life-sized cardboard cutout of Elizabeth. It was hard to say which looked more regal – the car or the cutout.

Villatoro wrapped a companionable arm around the paper form. Her husband raised a camera. Click!

“I really approve of the job she did for 96 years,” said Villatoro, conflating the queen’s age with her tenure on the throne. She nodded at the cardboard figure, clad in a pink dress and hat, her gloves, shoes and purse a matching tan.

“Not to mention that the lady had impeccable style.”

Nearby, Mike Deadman-Mercer peered into the engine compartment of a ‘64 Triumph TR4. The British-racing-green roadster gleamed under a weak sun. Jeremy Deadman-Mercer listened as his dad pointed out carburetors, independent rear suspension, a valve cover hiding four tough little cylinders. The elder Deadman-Mercer knew of what he spoke: He has a Triumph in a garage at his home in London.

He also has fond memories of Elizabeth. He was 5 when he saw the new queen return to Buckingham Palace following her 1953 coronation. Young Mike sat on his uncle’s shoulders and waved.

“It’s the end of an era, certainly for the U.K. and the rest of the world,” said Deadman-Mercer, 76. Her reign “was literally the only thing in the world that hadn’t changed.”

Credit: Mark Davis

Credit: Mark Davis

His son, an Atlanta resident who picked up his dad at the airport for a two-week visit, agreed. “She’s been a constant, very much so,” said Jeremy Mercer-Deadman. Her death “gave me an odd sense, a sense of change.”

The 41-year-old recalled exchanging messages with a fellow Brit in Tennessee not long after the queen died. The man said his American co-workers were offering condolences after learning of Elizabeth’s death.

“He wrote, ‘It’s almost like it was my mother,’” Jeremy Deadman-Mercer said.

‘Revered around the world’

It’s called Koh-i-Noor and is the dazzling centerpiece in the queen’s crown. The 105.6-carat diamond was mined in India about 800 years ago. It came to England after The British East India Company got hold of the stone in the late 1840s.

Critics of Great Britain’s colonial past say the diamond is bright, glittering evidence of a foreign nation’s oppression. Now that the queen is dead, calls for its return are getting louder.

Pom Bal understands those sentiments, but he thinks that some of those who complain about Great Britain’s influence on the land of his birth haven’t considered the benefits of India’s relationship with England.

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Though they criticize, “they all benefited from that same system,” said Bal, who was born in India but moved to West London when he was a child. He now lives in Sandy Springs. “They speak the Queen’s English and benefited from its educational system.”

“Colonialism,” he said, “didn’t start with the royal family.”

A retired Coca-Cola executive, Bal, 63, is a longtime fan of the queen. She oversaw a nation while having to deal with some family members who didn’t always behave as she thought they should, he said. She represented the nation on a world stage and did it well.

“I honestly think she is unique – that elegance, of carrying out her duties with grace, through sickness and health,” said Bal. “I think that’s why she was so revered around the world.”

She is revered at the Queen’s Pantry. Founded 10 years ago, the Marietta store specializes in all things British. Owner Samantha Garmon plans to open its doors Monday at 5:30 a.m. for the funeral. It’s only proper, she thinks, to let in customers to watch the ceremony, taking place five time zones away.

When the queen died, said Garmon, “we had people come in the store and say, ‘We didn’t know where else to go,’” she said.

“I honestly think she is unique – that elegance, of carrying out her duties with grace, through sickness and health. I think that's why she was so revered around the world."

- Pom Bal, retired Coca-Cola executive

Garmon set aside a book, with blank pages, for people to offer condolences to the king and his children. The book, its cover adorned with British spaniels, so far has more than 100 entries.

“With deepest sympathy, we mourn your loss,” wrote one store visitor. “Elizabeth is an icon for the British and the world,” another wrote. And a third: “God bless the Queen. God bless the King.”

She’s heard the critics: The monarchy is an anachronism. Garmon thinks they are missing a larger point about the royal family.

“If you look at what they do, they really don’t do that much in running the country,” said Garmon, 51. “But they do an amazing service.”

Tourists, she said, value the royals – and none was more revered than Elizabeth.

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

“We are laying to rest the world’s grandmother,” Garmon said. “We (Great Britain) don’t own the queen in that sense.”

Lyn Hovanesian shares her sentiments. She was a little girl, growing up in northern England, when Elizabeth ascended to the throne. It was such a big deal, she said, that her dad bought a TV just to watch the first televised coronation in the history of the world.

“All our neighbors crowded in, because no one else had a television set,” said Hovanesian. She lives in Alpharetta, after a career that began with a transfer to the states for an architectural firm.

Hovanesian, who visited the car show in Norcross, was silent while a PA system honored the monarch with a recording of the British national anthem. As the song filled the air, Hovanesian blinked with surprise. She expected to hear “God Save the King” – after all, the monarch was Charles. Instead, the PA played “God Save the Queen.”

“They didn’t have ‘God Save the King,’” she said.

Still, one soldiers on. Hovanesian stood to honor the queen and wish best for the king.

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com