The Prince Philip That I Knew
I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of HRH, the Duke of Edinburgh, yesterday morning. My mother, father, and I send our sincerest condolences not only to Sir Philip’s extended family but to the British people at large on this most devastating loss.
It strikes me that the timing of Sir Philip’s passing has cast a rather unfortunate pallor over the entirety of that very upstanding gentleman’s whole life. Ms. Markle’s meritless accusations of racism against Sir Philip have put my immediate family in the unprecedented position of agreeing with Piers Morgan.
What follows is simply our understanding of HRH — a man who never showed the slightest hint of racism as far as we can piece together. The Sir Philip we knew was altogether gracious and warm-hearted, with a cunning intellect but also a incredible sense of humility.
My first encounter with HRH might shed some light on his character. During a family trip to Ottawa, Canada, while my family and I were relaxing in the park, the Duke, quite out of the blue, trekked across some distance to re-introduce himself to my father. The two had apparently shared a table at a philanthropic function, and the Duke wanted to follow up on some of my father’s remarks.
What stands out about that day in my mind now is that, after speaking briefly to my father, His Royal Highness — rather unceremoniously — squatted down to the level of a 6-year-old me.
“What have we got here?” he said to himself, patting my head.
“A fine boy he is! A fine boy.”
I sheepishly asked him who he was.
“I’m the queen’s husband,” he said, chuckling.
“So you’re the King?”
I had no idea why my father and mother were glaring at me after I made that comment! But HRH took it in wonderful stride.
“I take it you haven’t met Elizabeth,” HRH remarked, smirking.
It strikes me, in retrospect, how mundane HRH’s comment was. But, as my father has always told the story, something about HRH’s mannerism or cadence lent his words an otherworldliness. He was the type of person for whom a perfectly timed wink could convey the joys of a lifetime — someone whose presence instantly made you feel at ease.
Years later, when we were summering in Nova Scotia, HRH paid us a visit. Rather distressingly for my parents, Sir Philip insisted upon helping the maids lay out the dinnerware, seeming to enjoy himself splendidly.
“They never let me do this at home,” he said, a twinkle in his eye.
Sitting down at the table, he began to eat his hors d’oeuvres with what was very obviously a dessert fork, which he’d apparently misarranged during his “maid duties.” Again, his expression when he realized what had occurred was priceless. I was only 8 or 9 at the time, but even I was practically in tears from laughter.
Then, the Duke produced this timeless quip:
“Donald, now I understand what you meant when you said I oughtn’t hold silver!”
My father let forth a stream of laughter and tears every bit as passionate as my own. HRH was referencing a discussion about international finance and precious metals he and my father had had earlier in the evening. That was just one instance of HRH’s quick wit among many others that were equally as funny — if not more so.
As the years passed, we were, unfortunately, not able to see as much of HRH as we once had. Still, he exercised some influence in our lives. When our (Black) driver Thomas was in hospital, HRH sent a most exquisite bouquet of lilies, accompanied with a handwritten note. And, on my first day of University, I found a check covering my living expenses for the the semester upon my dorm room desk, his excellency’s seal upon it.
When after completing my studies, I moved to the Far East, I discovered that Sir Philip’s hand made itself felt there too. At each port of call, I encountered a small delegation of British embassy staff, happy to perform basic translation tasks or allow me the use of their facilities if I required them — all the more incredible given that I was not at the time a British citizen. In Hong Kong, I was even told that Consul-General Sir James Hodge himself had been made aware of my travels in the ex-colony, likely a result of his royal highness’ continued interest in my well-being.
Having spoken with other beneficiaries of HRH thoughtfulness, I can earnestly say that he ranks as one of the most important philanthropists of the modern era. Of course, this goes largely unremarked upon since Sir Philip’s contributions were all made in utter secrecy — his being entirely too humble to allow such benefactions to come to light.
However, I feel that it is my duty to now shed light on the true Prince Philip — a man whose image has been tarnished by a most rapacious media — and of course, Ms. Markle, whose name it has always struck me as inappropriate to place in proximity to that of HRH.
So I will end my remarks there, although there are doubtless dozens more instances of the Duke’s grace and generosity I could mention. I’ll simply say this: Rest in Peace, dear Friend. May you be remembered for what you were — the last of the true Gentlemen.
Addendum: I’m not going to address the rumors of Megan Markle’s comments having played a role in Sir Philip’s passing. Sir Philip wouldn’t have wanted that.
But as to the implication that Sir Philip was a racist, I would say this: for so many little Black children throughout the Commonwealth, he was very much a role model and a hero, with more class and dignity in his pinky finger than Markle has in her entire body.