The news rippled across the Pacific Northwest like the waves that lapped against the Royal Yacht Britannia when Queen Elizabeth II made her only visit to Seattle, almost 40 years ago.
Britain’s longest-serving monarch had died at age 96, the world learned Thursday, prompting reactions in the Seattle area ranging from sadness to disinterest to an overt rejection of mourning for a vestige of the British Empire. Some recalled seeing Elizabeth II in person, with varying degrees of enthusiasm.
“It’s not everybody who gets to meet the queen,” said Sarath Kotelawala, of Des Moines, who shook her hand in 1952, soon after she became queen, when he was a teenager in officer training in the Royal Air Force.
Some Seattle-based Brits made their way at midday to the George and Dragon Pub in Fremont to watch coverage of the historic moment on the BBC, with one patron comparing the queen’s death to that of a distant grandmother.
“The mood was somber, to be honest,” said Daniel Pagard, a co-owner of the British-themed establishment, which planned to honor the queen with a special toast Thursday night. “A lot of people were in shock.”
In Redmond, at The British Pantry, flowers and miniature Union Jack flags were arranged beside a portrait of the queen. The restaurant’s owner, Mavis Redman, said she had been receiving calls from people sharing condolences.
“It’s a very sad day today,” said Steve Caldwell, general manager of BritEvents NW, a social group and online community with about 400 active members.
“I’m 62 now, and she was the only monarch I ever knew,” said Caldwell, an English-born Bremerton resident. “Through the passing of time and all the different politicians and prime ministers, she’s been the constant … the rock of the nation, in her own quiet way.”
Seattle resident Kier Adamson didn’t experience the news the same way, despite having an English mother and Scottish father, he said.
“It’s obviously terrible when anyone dies … On a personal level, I’m sure she was very kind and very sweet,” said Adamson, 22. “But in terms of the monarchy, I think it’s ridiculous we’re still talking about it … If you look at the impact it’s had all over the world, it’s almost wholly negative.”
Aretha Basu, 27, said multiple group chats with friends blew up Thursday with messages about the legacy of the British Empire. Revolutionary activities brought Basu’s paternal grandparents together in India, and her relatives were among the millions forced to migrate during the subcontinent’s deadly partition into India and Pakistan, she said. She has friends with ties to Pakistan and the Caribbean.
“When the news [about the queen] broke, really what came to mind for me was everything this monarchy has repeated across the world,” the Seattle resident said. “There’s an experience of violence and massive amounts of injustice and human turmoil shared across so many cultures and places, and the through-line is the British monarchy.”
She added: “So it’s just hard to have sympathy or empathy, knowing what the British have represented and done … Especially for young people like me, [the queen] was the direct representation of that harm.”
In that sense, the end of the queen’s reign “really is a moment of celebration for a lot of people and countries.”
In her long reign, Elizabeth spent less than a day in Seattle, on March 7, 1983, during a tour of the West Coast. She and Prince Philip made stops at Children’s Hospital, the University of Washington, Seattle Center and the Westin Hotel, riding the Monorail and strolling down Fifth Avenue. They cruised away to Victoria, B.C. on the Royal Yacht Britannia, their 412-foot vessel.
“I’ve never seen a public figure better at interacting with a crowd than she was,” then-Mayor Charles Royer recalled Thursday.
David Ruble, a University of Washington student at the time, scored a ticket from a fraternity brother to watch the queen speak at Hec Edmundson Pavilion. Listening to her and other dignitaries, he almost dozed off.
“Her delivery was very monotone and her cadence was very even,” said Ruble, 61, of Bellevue.
The exciting part came later, when the queen walked past Ruble on her way out of the arena.
“I was struck by how tiny she was, and my eyes were drawn to this massive sapphire brooch she had on,” he said.
Three decades earlier, Kotelawala was greeted by a much younger Elizabeth. She was a brand-new queen and he had recently arrived in England from Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon. He was one of the first from the Commonwealth country to become a Royal Air Force officer.
“She asked me how I enjoyed my training,” said Kotelawala, who went on to become an engineer for Boeing and settled in the Seattle area decades ago.
He can still picture the scene.
“It’s something I’ll never forget,” he said.