Queen Elizabeth’s death felt among Tampa Bay’s British expats

TAMPA — Keith “Dougie” Douglas watched the news from his homeland for a while Thursday. When it suddenly felt like too much, he stepped outside.

For eight years during the ‘90s, Douglas was a member of the Royal Navy crew on Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia, which was used by Queen Elizabeth II for state visits and other travel.

His favorite voyages were in late summer when the queen and other members of the royal family would board at Portsmouth and sail up the western coast of Great Britain, sometimes stopping to picnic on isolated beaches along the western Isles of Scotland. The trip would end in Aberdeen, where a Rolls Royce or Bentley would drive the Queen to Balmoral Castle in Scotland.

“She’s said more than once being on board the Britannia was the only place she could really relax,” said Douglas, 63, who lives in east Hillsborough County. “I have shed some tears, having met her a few times and spoken to her a few times. It’s a wrench for everyone.”

Fishhawk Ranch resident Keith “Dougie” Douglas, center right, stands to attention as Queen Elizabeth II disembarks from HMY Brittania, the monarch’s yacht. [ Keith Douglas ]

Many struggled to come to grips with the death of Queen Elizabeth, 96, who had been a constant, reassuring national figurehead and, for most, the only monarch they had ever known.

Almost 80,000 people born in the United Kingdom call Florida home, including roughly 13,000 in the Tampa Bay region, according to the census.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office announced late Thursday that as a gesture of respect, the flags of the United States and the state of Florida would be flown at half-staff at all local and state buildings until sunset on the day of her interment.

Related: Queen Elizabeth II visited Tampa on May 20, 1991. Here’s a look back.

Former Pinellas resident Katie Wenz, 51, was at the supermarket when she heard the queen was dead. Holding back tears, she loaded up her shopping cart and paid as quickly as she could. Then she climbed into her car and “had a good old cry.”

The tears continued at home.

“Even putting the kettle on isn’t helping today,” said Wentz, who moved to the U.S. in the ‘90s and now lives in Ocala. “The one thing I could count on as being constant in my life was that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II would be on the throne.”

A dozen red roses and a sympathy card were sent Thursday to Jillian Frers, also known as Lady Chattaway, named for the blue and white British-themed dining room at The Chattaway, her restaurant on 22nd Avenue South in St. Petersburg. The card read: “Her majesty will always live in our hearts.”

Born and raised in London, the 90-year-old came to Florida after marrying an American soldier. On Thursday, she felt in touch with her homeland.

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”I fear for people in London,” she said. “I’m worried about them. They love their queen so much.”

Frers said she was lucky enough to see the queen in London. She remembers her “gorgeous skin, big blue eyes and very lovely laughter.”

”I don’t think we could have another queen we could ever love so much. We’ll miss her very much.”

Even before her death was announced, the queen’s health was a topic of conversation at the Horse and Jockey, a British-themed pub on Pasadena Avenue in St. Petersburg where the menu includes steak and ale pie, fish and chips and Cornish pasties.

Manager Chris Lowndes, who grew up in Essex in the U.K., said the queen had been a wonderful head of state.

“It’s really sad,” he said. ”We’ll do something here at the pub for sure. It’s all very sudden.”

Dunedin resident Johnny Cee remembers standing on the side of the road in his hometown of Wrexham in Wales to see the queen during her Silver Jubilee in 1977. He was 13. It was a summer marked by street parties across the country to celebrate her 25th year on the throne.

He left England in 1987, but his affinity for the U.K. has hardly waned. Cee, who works at a car dealership that specializes in Jaguars and Land Rovers, also runs Tampa Bay Brits, an expat social group. The group will gather soon, he said, to mark her historic passing.

“Most of us expats over here have only known Queen Elizabeth as our monarch,” he said. “With her passing, it feels like a part of your life has gone away.”


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