Two women from Lakeland are in the United Kingdom this week and have witnessed firsthand the grief over the death of Queen Elizabeth II, with one catching a glimpse of the new king and the other leaving flowers and a note from Lakeland residents near Buckingham Palace.
Jane Stephenson Bumar and Courtney Campbell-Reich both graduated from Lakeland High School in 1985. Stephenson Bumar splits her time between Scotland and Central Florida, while Campbell-Reich lives in California and works for United Airlines.
“The nation’s symbolic mother and grandmother, was gone,” Stephenson Bumar wrote in a letter to LkdlNow. “I’ve found myself waking up in the middle of the night since. My 2 a.m. thought every night has been, ‘The queen has died.’ How surreal it is to wake up and think that. I’ve never met her, she’s a total stranger, but she was a constant that is no longer there. It just feels unsettling and strange.”
Stephenson Bumar grew up in Lakeland with her American father and her very properly British mother who, she said, never completely acclimated to life in the United States. She remembers getting up at 4 a.m. when she was in the 7th grade to watch Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer get married in a fairytale wedding.
“Various royal births were celebrated, tea towels were hung up, royal souvenir teacups were shipped over from my British grandmother,” Stephenson Bumar wrote. “This heritage of ‘being British’ was something I was always given to believe was very special – even if mostly a quirk of circumstance. Central to this mythology was The Queen – a constant figure even if American presidents and British prime ministers came and went.”
After Lakeland High School, she graduated from Florida Southern College with a communications degree in 1989. She worked for Disney for more than 30 years and now co-owns a tour company in Edinburgh. Like thousands of others in Scotland’s capital city, Stephenson Bumar went to her local grocery store and bought a bouquet of flowers, taking them to Holyrood House, the queen’s official Scottish residence, about four miles from her own home.
“Twenty years of suffering with Alzheimer’s disease left my mother unaware of where she lived anymore — physically in her assisted living facility in Florida, she was mentally home in Britain, with no idea how much everything there had changed, too,” she wrote. “But, the one constant that she would still recognize was photos of the Queen. Perhaps those flowers that I placed by the palace gates were not just for the loss of our nation’s mother, but for the loss of my own mother and grandmother too.”
She said the atmosphere at Holyrood House was somber and, instead of regular tourists, it had become a sudden, impromptu family of strangers coming together with their flowers and cards.
“There were locals with their dogs, and tourists with their national flags tucked in to their bouquets,” she wrote. “Some had fastened photos from when they, or perhaps their Granny, had met the Queen in person. In the days since, those first hundreds of flower bouquets have become thousands. Paddington Bear stuffed animals, and little handmade drawings of the queen walking into the heavens with her beloved dogs have appeared.”
On Monday, she and thousands of others lined the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, waiting in wind and cold, with groups of strangers becoming acquaintances. Alliances were formed to help keep their carefully staked-out viewing spots – hers was near St. Giles Cathedral. As she waited, she took a phone call from her landlord, a farmer, about something to do with their home and told him they were waiting for the funeral procession.
“He told us, in a modest but still rather excited fashion, to keep an eye out for him there. We had no idea he was a member of the Royal Company of Archers – the queen’s bodyguard in Scotland,” she said. “We felt obscurely proud to know him as he walked by in his striking forest green uniform with eagle feather in his bonnet.”
Then a brown Rolls Royce came down the road. King Charles III and Queen Consort Camilla rode by as they made their way from Edinburgh Castle at the top of the hill to the palace at the other end of the Royal Mile to begin their wake, calmly waving just 10 feet from Stephenson Bumar.
“I’ve only seen the queen on television, so this was a moment I’m unlikely to forget,” she wrote. “Just a flash in the crowd, but my own few seconds of seeing figures I’ve also lived with distantly for years.”
The funeral procession then worked its way back up the Royal Mile to 1,000-year-old St. Giles Cathedral.
“Bagpipes in the distance sounded their eerie, atmospheric call, and the thump of a funeral drum drifted into range. Thousands of people standing on the street became silent, except for the ring of boots on the ancient cobblestones,” she wrote. “The sound of horse’s hooves — surely a sound the famously animal-loving queen would have enjoyed — echoed. A hearse, with the flash of blue, red, gold –- the Royal Standard flag -– came into view. I’d like to tell you I saw the king walking right behind the coffin, but he and the other royals were small figures from where I stood. I saw a hat with black feathers blowing by the cathedral door – Queen Consort Camilla as it turned out.”
That night, her partner’s brother, whom she described as never a man to fuss about royalty, called to say he was in line to pay his respects.
“The queue stretched over a mile and a half from the cathedral door, and went all night,” she said. “People waited up to six hours in the chilly night air to have their moment to say goodbye.”
On Tuesday morning, her partner, Brian, was walking along a quiet street in Edinburgh when King Charles, seated in the Rolls Royce, drove by.
“He was maybe six feet away from Brian with nobody else around,” Stephenson Bumar wrote. “Surreal time here.”
Tuesday afternoon, they ran to the end of their street to say a final farewell to the queen.
“The funeral hearse, a black Mercedes limo with a large glass dome over the casket draped in the royal standard, passed,” she said. “People brought their dogs again, and their kids in school uniform out to see it, because that’s what Scottish people do. Princess Anne, the princess royal looking weary but entirely recognizable in the following car. (Someone in the crowd noted) ‘She’s been doing an amazing job, she must be so tired,’ as she’s been accompanying her mother’s casket for days now.”
Ten minutes later, the hearse was at Edinburgh Airport, and they watched simultaneously on the television and from their balcony as the plane climbed into the sky.
“The Queen’s last journey from her beloved Scotland has come to a close. In a nearby field, visible from our TV screen, I could see the dust rising from a farmer’s plough, life going on,” she wrote. “I think the queen would have liked that very much.”
The Queen’s body arrived in London Tuesday evening and that’s where Campbell-Reich was on a layover from her job as a flight attendant. She went to Buckingham Palace to pay her respects, flowers and card in hand, leaving the offering in nearby Green Park, along with thousands of others, “to leave her a proper thank you for her gift to Lakeland” of a pair of mute swans in 1957.
“They have closed off Buckingham Palace as the queen comes in tonight and they are closing off the roads,” she wrote to LkldNow. “They have moved all flowers off of the gates to the park.”
Campbell-Reich left a bouquet in a purple gift bag that included a lavender rose with fuchsia dahlias and a fuchsia carnation, along with a postcard that read: “Her Majesty’s legacy lives on in Lakeland, Florida. Thank you for the swan gifts to our fair city so many years ago! 50-80 swans in any given year on Lake Morton. God bless.”
Campbell-Reich, who returns to Lakeland to visit her mother, said she has spoken with Londoners.
“They are sad mostly,” she said. “They realize she was old, but she was all the people have known all these years.”
She said all the television channels in Great Britain are showing round-the-clock coverage.
It’s a “very historical time,” she said. “A time of great reflection.”
Kimberly C. Moore is an award-winning reporter and a Lakeland native. She can be reached at [email protected] or 863-272-9250.