Ex-pats across northern Illinois mourn Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II: ‘It’s like she’s part of the family’

Elizabeth passed away Thursday, Buckingham Palace announced.

FILE - In this Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012 file photo, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II looks up and waves to members of staff of The Foreign and Commonwealth Office as she ends an official visit which is part of her Jubilee celebrations in London. Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch and a symbol of stability across much of a turbulent century, has died on Thursday, Sept, 8, 2022. She was 96. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant Pool, File)

There was mourning across the United Kingdom after British subjects lost the longest-serving monarch in the nation’s history Thursday.

Elizabeth II died at age 96 after recently marking 70 years on the throne. The news spread across the globe and was received sorrowfully in Northern Illinois, where a number of British expatriates now call home.

Among those who expressed sadness was Christine Lanuti, a native of Wales who emigrated to the U.S. and settled in Ottawa with her husband, former Chief Judge James Lanuti.

Christine Lanuti, reached at her retirement home in Florida, said she broke into tears early Thursday at the news the queen’s health health had taken a bad turn.

“She’s been my sovereign all my life” said Lanuti, reached a few hours before the worldwide news broke around midday. “I am very sad at her passing.”

Lanuti said the queen’s annual Christmas address to British subjects was a can’t-miss event in her childhood home and, even after emigrating, she tried to tune in each Christmas from her Ottawa home.

Lanuti even got to see her monarch, albeit from a limited vantage point. Elizabeth visited Lanuti’s hometown in Wales, Swansea. Lanuti was a small girl and came nowhere close to the monarch, but in that era the royal family didn’t actively engage their subjects. (Princess Diana changed that a generation later.)

Eleni Leigh of Princeton came close to meeting the queen. The London native, through her attorney father, met several members of the royal family, including the late Prince Philip. On one occasion, Leigh stood less than 10 feet away from Her Majesty.

“We’ve been around the family and had the pleasure of meeting them, and that’s an experience a lot of people don’t have,” Leigh said.

Partly for that reason, Leigh said she took the “surprise” news harder than she expected.

“I did share a few tears with my mother,” said Leigh, who spent most of Thursday with family members via FaceTime. “They were playing the national anthem on TV, and it got to me. It’s history in the making, and it’s like she’s part of the family.”

Joanne Farabaugh grew up in the south coast of England before settling in Ottawa in 2008 with her husband, Kane. Farabaugh said she grew up in a family that favored the monarchy, but she wonders how the royal family will adapt. Elizabeth always had risen above the scandals, but now the reins will be passed to a more divisive generation.

“I don’t know what this means for the monarchy,” Farabaugh said, “and I think it would be very sad if it were to fade away with the queen no longer there as the bedrock.”

Farabaugh said she took Elizabeth’s passing harder than she anticipated.

“I kind of surprised myself with how emotional I’ve felt about the queen’s passing,” she said. “We all wished she wouldn’t die, but given her ripe old age it had to happen.”

“It makes me wish I was back in the United Kingdom to share these emotions with my family and the other Brits.”

Glen Ellyn residents Jonathan and Felicity Carswell, who moved to the U.S. from the United Kingdom more than three years ago, stayed glued to the television Thursday watching the events unfold on BBC.

“I’ve taken the day off work because the moment I heard the palace make a statement about her health I thought, ‘This is serious … They don’t usually comment on her health at all,’ ” Jonathan Carswell said.

He calls the Queen’s 70-year reign “amazing.”

“She has served the monarchy longer than anybody else,” Carswell said. “I think what stands out for most people is her loyalty. She was absolutely committed to serving both the country, but also the Commonwealth. And she’s done it with such dignity. Not to make a comment on any other world leader, but she really stands out for her dignity, her integrity, and the way she went about her work.”

Carswell has mixed feelings about Prince Charles’ ascension to the throne.

“He has extremely difficult shoes to fill,” he said. “I think the mood is split in the UK as to whether or not this is going to be a smooth ride for Charles. Right now there’s a mood of deep respect and admiration for the Queen, even by those non-royalists, and Charles does not have that same regard I’m afraid. I think there might even be those in the younger generation who would say it would be great if they skipped Charles. I think people have more respect for William.”

Just some of the scandals that have plagued the Queen’s eldest son include his marriage to Princess Diana and their subsequent divorce, as well as his affair with and eventual marriage to Camilla.

Carswell, who runs a business selling Christian books for not-for-profits, lauded the Queen’s strong faith. Because the monarch has a dual role as head of both state and church, he wonders how Charles will navigate both.

“The Queen has always been pretty public on her belief in Jesus and her trust in the Bible and her strong faith and the same isn’t said of Charles,” Carswell said. “But he will still be the head of the Church of England, so it’s a complicated time for sure.”

He has no doubt the funeral for the longest-reigning British monarch will be a huge occasion.

“My family lives 250 miles away from London, and they will all head to London for the funeral,” Carswell said. “It will be a massive, massive event. It was just incredible, her impact. I don’t know of anyone else in the world that has such wide-held love and admiration.”

Nevertheless, one didn’t have to be a British expatriate to feel the loss.

Elizabeth Goodyear, 35, a Geneva High School graduate now living in San Francisco, was in London for work when the queen died.

Because it was the queen’s Diamond Jubilee year – the 70th year of her reign – Goodyear had just been in a store buying a commemorative ornament for her mother “because we both love the royals.”

And then a couple of hours later, she heard of the queen’s death while in her hotel room.

“It has been a very surreal day,” Goodyear said.

She went to Buckingham Palace.

“The sun had just set and the sky was pink,” Goodyear said. “I stayed an hour and half. … People were singing round after round nonstop of ‘God Save the Queen.’ There was a sense of disbelief. There were a lot of people there, but the people were really polite and nice, just singing.”

Goodyear said she made her way to the gate and saw the plaque they put on the gate and the flag at half-mast.

“It was pouring down rain when I left,” Goodyear said.

Batavia resident Robert Kieckhefer said he was saddened by news of the queen’s death.

“This is a shame,” Kieckhefer said. “The whole world will be poorer without her. She was the last of a kind.”

Kieckhefer said he especially knows of the queen’s lifelong devotion to thoroughbred horse racing.

“She was a very knowledgable breeder and she’s had several winners over the years at the Royal Ascot meeting. This goes back generations in the royal family,” Kieckhefer said. “Her impact on horse racing is global. She was always invested in how horse racing could be used to bring people together globally – to meet outside the constraints of politics and acrimony. She was a nice lady.”

Kieckhefer, a horse aficionado himself, said he met John Warren – the queen’s bloodstock adviser on horse breeding – several times.

“He had nothing but good things to say about her, not only her knowledge about horse racing, but her understanding of how it could be used to bring people together,” Kieckhefer said. “If you watched her on TV, he was at her elbow walking around the grounds.”

When the queen came to Kentucky for horse racing, she stayed at Lane’s End Farm, owned by William Farish, now former U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James, Kieckhefer said.

“The Court of St. James is how we refer to the English – diplomatically,” he said.

Mark Vicary, the former mayor of Genoa who opted not to run for re-election last year, grew up in England. He said he was shocked by news of the queen’s death.

“I don’t think it was well known she was ill,” Vicary said. “It makes you pine for the old country. So, I’m sad today.”

Lance Beatch, owner of Fox Bluff Vacation Cottage and RV Resort in Oswego, was born in Canada, where his grandmother and many members of his family immigrated from the United Kingdom.

Beatch said the news of the Queen’s death has been taken hard by many Canadians, his wife included, who always held the Queen in high regard.

“I believe that the Queen brought a touch of class and regality to the commonwealth,” Beatch said. “I mean, she’s been the queen since Truman.”

Beatch said that while the Queen hasn’t had a direct influence over Canada from a governing standpoint, he believes she has impacted the commonwealth in its entirety, as it relates to her poise and professionalism.

“Everyone recognizes her as being classy and professional and the quintessential dignitary,” Beatch said. “The sentiment that some people hold may change, but there will always be respect for the crown.”

Beatch said the relationship to the crown is different to Canada than to America. To explain the difference, he compared America’s Independence Day on July 4th to Canada’s Dominion Day on July 1st.

Beatch said where the Fourth of July represents America breaking from the crown and winning a war for its freedom, Dominion Day – now known as Canada Day, and referred to by Beatch as “group-hug day” – represents the amicable uncoupling of Canada from the monarchy.

“But the Queen is still on our money,” Beatch said. “While the rest of the world went their own way, the commonwealth has always had amicable ties with the Queen.”

Beatch said he doesn’t think the Queen’s death will affect those ties.

“The crown is still there, it’s just worn by Charles,” he said. “He’s not the Queen, but she’s a tough act to follow.”

John Muir of Oglesby is a British expatriate whose earliest public memory was of Elizabeth’s coronation. Muir was born in 1947 under George VI, but well remembers the great street party when Elizabeth was crowned.

“Unfortunately, I was not well enough to go to it,” said Muir, who had just been discharged from the hospital after a nasty bout with tonsillitis.

Muir took Thursday’s news more stoically than others interviewed for this story.

“I’d have to say I’m not a monarchist by natural inclination,” Muir said. “I’m not all that keen of people being born into almost unimaginable wealth. So from the point of view of the institution, I don’t feel any sense of loss.

“The queen herself has been an absolutely remarkable person, both in the way she’s conducted herself and in the way she’s remained relevant to society without having to impose herself upon it. Her commitment to public service and sense of duty has been incredible. I’ll certainly miss her as an individual.”

Except for Leigh, most of those interviewed expressed little or no surprise at the queen’s passing.

Muir said he developed an ability to read between the lines of Buckingham Palace’s nuanced press releases. When he heard that doctors were “concerned” for the queen’s health, he knew the end was at hand.

“The family didn’t come flocking in just because she wasn’t feeling well,” Muir said, “so I was fully expecting to hear she died.”

Farabaugh said she’d taken note of the queen’s declining health and increasingly missed public appearances. There was only one conclusion to be reached.

“We knew something was up, and it was only matter of time,” Farabaugh said.

St. Charles music teacher Andrew Bordoni, who owns Sunrise Music Studio, was born in England and shook her hand when she visited his elementary school.

“She used to tour schools in the U.K.,” Bordoni said. “I met her. She was so sweet.”

Bordoni expressed sadness at hearing the news of Queen Elizabeth II’s death. But as he noted, she lived a long life.

“I think she lived an incredible life,” he said. “She had a wicked sense of humor, which a lot of people didn’t see. Anytime she did public appearances, especially in the U.K., she was really funny. And she loved making fun of her husband.”

Bordoni plans to watch the BBC’s coverage of her death to get the latest updates.

“I know they’re going to be doing coverage all day,” he said. “I’ll probably watch a little bit of it tonight with my wife and I have a pint in her honor.”

He took note of how loved Queen Elizabeth was.

“I think there’s very, very few people that have anything bad to say about the Queen,” Bordoni said. “There’s always scandal and controversy about the monarchy, but about the Queen herself, I don’t think there was that many people that hated her. I think she was loved and cherished by a lot of people. I know a lot of people here in the United States that have shrines in their house and they’re not even English. She was loved all around the world.”

Jean Hoff of Oregon talked about the importance of Elizabeth’s coronation while growing up during the post-World War II period when there was still rationing.

“I grew up in Old Trafford, Manchester and was in first grade when Elizabeth was crowned queen at age 25,” Hoff recalled. “Everyone in England enjoyed the fairy-tale wedding with the beautiful queen and her handsome prince. England had been battered during war and this was a sign of hope for the future. She did not disappoint, and kept her promise of spending her life in service to her country.

“I think that is what the British people most admired about her. She was a constant and reliable in her efforts and continued that throughout her long life.  I shed a few tears for sure!”

Reporters Brenda Schory, David Petesch, Eric Schelkopf, Megann Horstead and Erin Sauder contributed.