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Dr Browning meets HM The Queen at the opening of the Queensferry Crossing in 2017. Picture by 'Brodieman1962', creative commons licence
Dr Browning meets HM The Queen at the opening of the Queensferry Crossing in 2017. Picture by 'Brodieman1962', creative commons licence

A Peerless Example of Selfless Devotion

Friday September 9 2022

The Very Rev Dr Derek Browning remembers 'a lady of dry wit and graciousness'.

So many people in our country will not have known any other monarch than Queen Elizabeth.

Her steady presence as our head of state; her annual appearances on our TV screens on Christmas Day with words of comfort and challenge; her garden parties at Holyrood House; her ability to catch us all our with that marvellous appearance with James Bond at the 2012 Olympics; and at her 70th Jubilee her tea party with Paddington Bear. She has been our greatest public servant, she has been the mother and grandmother of our nation and Commonwealth.

The Queen’s selfless service, compassionate wisdom and sparkling humour have been hallmarks of her reign. Spanning so much of the C20th and now into the C21st, the Queen, was the most well-travelled monarch in British History was firmly of the belief that as long as she was able, she would intend to get out and about. She said quite clearly, “I have to be seen to be believed.”

For those who have been privileged to meet the Queen, memories will flood back. For me, during my year as Moderator, it was her generous hospitality at Holyrood House and Balmoral Castle. And those piercing, sparkling eyes, noticing everything and everyone, and frequently accompanying her observations with a ready laugh, and a deeply insightful question.

I remember sitting with her in a drawing room at Balmoral, having just attended the Braemar Gathering. The Queen was playing a game of Double Patience, whilst carrying on conversation. After discussing matters relating to the General Assembly, and the world of politics, she asked if I might care for a drink. When I indicated that a gin and tonic might be a good idea, she said, “Good, and you might make one for me too.” I did as commanded, and I rather think she was pleased that I mixed ‘Balmoral’ and not ‘Morningside’ measures.

A few weeks ago, I wrote in Life and Work about that same weekend when, after leaving Balmoral, I journeyed to take part in the opening of the Queensferry Crossing.

On September 4 1964, I was two years old, dressed in a kilt, and hurried into a car by some elderly female relatives. We got to a special vantage point by the River Forth and joined the crowd. It being Scotland, where the weather never fails to tantalise, there was a Haar over the water, but the sunshine was behind it. It was a magical moment, and sure enough the mist began to lift.

“Look at the lady in blue, look at the lady in blue”, I remember being told. Then the sun burned through the haar and the beauty of the two elegant towers with their draped cables emerging.

It was quite something to be at the opening of the Forth Road Bridge fifty-eight years ago.

It was also quite memorable being present on 4th September 2017 when, as Moderator, I was privileged to bless the Queensferry Crossing, with the same lady in blue.

The day before, as part of the Balmoral weekend, I had recounted the ‘lady in blue’ story during my sermon at Crathie Kirk.

I drove down to be present at the Queensferry Crossing opening and blessing. Her Majesty travelled by helicopter. Imagine my surprise, and eternal delight, when she arrived in her car, stepped out, smiled broadly at me and said as we shook hands, “Well Moderator, will this do?” She was dressed head to toe in blue!

The Queen has offered the world her peerless example of selfless devotion that has brought stability and continuity. A lady of dry wit and graciousness. As we remember her she will remain an example of goodness and faithfulness that we should cherish.

The Very Rev Dr Derek Browning was Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 2017