Expats in Columbus react to Queen Elizabeth II’s death

Watching the news on Thursday morning, Lyn Risby knew the UK’s longest-serving monarch was about to die.

That didn’t make it any less devastating for the London native, who has lived in Columbus for nine years.

“She’s the backbone of our country,” Risby said of Queen Elizabeth II. “She was the poster child.”

After a 70-year reign, Queen Elizabeth II, or Lilibeth as she was often called by close friends and family, died Thursday at Balmoral Castle, her estate in Scotland. She was 96.

Queen Elizabeth II was a constant in expat life

Before her death, Elizabeth II had been a constant in Risby’s life. One of the 72-year-old’s earliest memories is of the Queen’s coronation in 1953.

“My grandparents rented a black-and-white TV, and we all huddled in our living room,” Risby said.

Risby said Elizabeth II had what she called a stabilizing influence on the UK, regardless of anyone’s sympathy with the monarchy.

“When she was 21, she took an oath to serve the country,” Risby said. “Regardless of her crazy kids or whatever happened, she did this. She is an amazing woman and something that binds every Brit together.”

Risby keeps in touch with her compatriots through a local expat group called Buckeye Brits Community, of which she is the administrator.

“For our holidays, sporting events and whatever, we come out of the wood and celebrate in our own way,” Risby said.

Graham Holmes, 61, from Worthington, is also a member of the expat club. Originally from Telford, England, Holmes recalled the Queen going there in 1967. Holmes was only 6 at the time and didn’t get a chance to meet her, but some of his family members did during a garden party later held at Buckingham Palace.

Like Risby, Holmes holds Elizabeth II in high esteem and says there will never be anyone like her.

“There will always be another king or queen, but I don’t think they will ever be replaced,” he added.

Queen Elizabeth “relic” still pushing for progress

When Rupali Needham learned that Queen Elizabeth II had died, she dropped everything and logged on online to read the news.

“To be honest, I’m pretty shocked,” she said. “literally my whole life, [the Queen’s] been a constant.”

Needham, 33, from New Albany, was adopted from Bangladesh and grew up in England, Ethiopia, Nepal, Thailand and Bangladesh. Throughout her life, Needham made it a point to keep track of the Queen’s anniversaries, no matter the time of day.

She called Elizabeth II a relic of the once-mighty British Empire but said she still urges progress.

“Obviously there is racism within the royal[family],” said Needham, who identifies as a person of color.

Needham said the late Queen was from a different time than her children or grandchildren, and recalled how stoic she was during Princess Diana’s funeral.

“She was born into a time when you didn’t show much emotion,” Needham said. “When you’re somehow calm and composed, even though you’re screaming inside.”

A complicated symbol

Others have more conflicting views of the world’s longest-serving monarch and the country she ruled.

Madhumita Dutta, who teaches geography at Ohio State University and was born in India, recalls waving at the Queen’s motorcade in New Delhi with thousands of other children during an official state visit in the 1980s.

She said her views on the Queen’s death were influenced by her family’s ties to the UK.

During the British partition of India and Pakistan, Dutta’s family fled their home in East Bengal. She also lost a great-uncle after he was recruited to fight for the British in the Royal Air Force during World War II.

“For me, it’s not a feeling of anger or happiness or sadness or anything,” Dutta said. “I’ve said to my students — it’s not about a person, it’s about history and how that history shaped a lot of things that are now unfolding.”

Pranav Jani is an associate professor in the Department of English at Ohio State University.

Pranav Jani, an associate professor of English at Ohio State whose focus is postcolonial and critical ethnic studies, said his grandparents fought against British colonial rule.

“(It SHThey should respect a symbol of the British state or the wealth they possess if they know where it came from‘ said Jani.

Louise Yahiaoui, Global Education Specialist at OSU, grew up in London and helps organize school trips there.

She recalls being taught in elementary school that the royal family is something to be proud of. Less savory elements of the British monarchy would be overshadowed, she said.

“Our history class didn’t include the darker side of what it means to be a king and what it means to have led the Commonwealth in terms of impact on people around the world,” Yahiaoui said.

Best-selling romance novelist: The Queen has done an “excellent job”.

Rosemary Laurey, 76, is a bestselling British romance novelist who has lived in America for 52 years, the last 20 in Columbus. She described herself as ambivalent about the British monarchy, although she expressed respect for Queen Elizabeth II’s work.

“When I was young, I never really thought about it. It was just a fait accompli, you know, like — you have trees in the yard, you have chickens in the run, and you have the queen on the throne,” Laurey said. “But I have to admit, the Queen has done a great job. I kind of wonder why we still have them, but we have them. And I think, overall, most people are really happy that we’re doing that — I’m a bit of an outlier.”

Monroe Trombly and Micah Walker cover trending news.

Peter Gill reports on immigration and new American communities in collaboration with Report for America. You can support work like his with a tax-deductible donation to Report for America here: bit.ly/3fNsGaZ.

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