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Queen Elizabeth in Charlottesville: "It was just amazing to see everyone fall silent"

A ticket to see Queen Elizabeth II was the hottest ticket in town in July 1976, when the monarch visited Charlottesville, a town named for another British queen, to mark the country’s bicentennial.

Larry Sabato, founder and director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, says Sandy Gilliam, now retired protocol officer from the UVa, got him a ticket onto the Lawn, incidentally not far from where he now lives in Pavilion IV.

“I got to see everyone as they came down the steps of the Rotunda,” said Sabato, listing the names of those in the entourage, which included the Queen’s husband, Prince Philip; UVa President Frank Hereford and his wife Ann; and Governor Mills Godwin.

“She very graciously and very slowly walked all the way down the Lawn to Cabell Hall,” Sabato said. “People were just hushed. It was just amazing to see everyone fall silent in the presence of the queen.”

Sabato said that two Lawn residents, a male and a female, had been chosen to show the royal couple what kind of living quarters they had.

“Prince Philip — who was very impish — said, ‘Oh, you two live together, do you?’ Everyone else laughed, but the Queen shot him a look that would have killed the Swiss Guard.”

Sabato noted that President Gerald Ford had visited Charlottesville just a few days earlier to celebrate the American Bicentennial at the annual naturalization ceremony at Monticello.

“So it was a big week in Charlottesville.”

Gilliam remembers not only the big day but also the days leading up to it.

Her handlers were very clear, Gilliam said, with one particular rule: "You’re not supposed to touch the queen in any way."

But UVa President Frank Hereford was fretting about safely escorting the Queen up the marble stairs of the Rotunda and wondered how chivalry could possibly square with that strict rule.

"Frank asked, ‘What if she falls?’"

"Let her fall," came the answer, recalls Gilliam.

"It was a pretty day," adds Gilliam. "There were lots of dogs and small children."

And then the Queen’s private secretary leaned in with a confession: "I always thought Oxford was the most beautiful campus," Gilliam says the secretary said. "Don’t tell anybody, but UVA wins."

Photographer Jim Carpenter photographed the Queen in 1976. On Facebook, he remembered a moment when he captured an extraordinary photo of her.

“It was July 1976 when I was part of the press following Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Charlottesville. It was so much fun but so much protocol.

“In preparation of her visit, all the billboard signs from the airport to Charlottesville were either removed or covered. A section of Court Square, all the manhole covers were welded shut. Then we, the press photographers, were allowed to only be in front of the Queen and never behind. Prince Phillip, the Queen’s husband was required to walk behind her as per protocol.

“As she walked the UVA Lawn on that hot July afternoon with the University President Frank Hereford, I photographed the Prince and as I looked up realized I was behind the Queen. I was too many steps away. She casually looked over her shoulder, smiled at my camera and I got the photo as one of the Queens guards told me I had to move on.

“I did so very quickly, but will always remember that ‘royal’ moment and that ‘forgiving’ smile.

To the Royal Family of England, our prayers are with you! May you forever Rest In Peace.”


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