With the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, now may be an appropriate time to relate behind-the-scene aspects of two special royal visits to Maryland. These memorable occasions were a college football game played before the queen in College Park and a luncheon in Annapolis for the Queen Mother that involved an unusual toast in her honor.
Interestingly, then-Gov. Theodore R. McKeldin (1951-1959) played a prominent role in both events, which occurred within three years.
Elizabeth II visited Maryland for the first time on Oct. 19, 1957. One of the requests she made was to see a football game during her visit. It seems she was intrigued to find how our version of the game differed from the English version, known as rugby.
In response, the University of Maryland constructed a special stand for her in College Park’s Byrd Stadium so she — along with such dignitaries as Prince Philip, the governor and the university president — could have a front-row seat at a regularly scheduled college game. The contest she witnessed, along with an overflow crowd of 43,000, saw the University of Maryland Terps competing against the North Carolina Tar Heels.
With Governor McKeldin sitting next to her to explain the game, she eagerly followed the action on the field, asking questions throughout, and enjoying the experience of seeing a hard-fought American college rivalry. She even stayed beyond her scheduled departure time until the last minutes of the contest, which the Terps won 21-7.
Afterward, the governor remarked he appreciated this opportunity to host the queen and said she was “prettier than her pictures.”
Three years prior to Elizabeth II’s visit to Maryland, on Nov. 8, 1954, her mother traveled to visit the Naval Academy and see Annapolis.
The Queen Mother took special interest in the historic aspects of Maryland’s capital. With schools closed early and thousands lining the streets, McKeldin escorted her around parts of the city, then showed her into the State House and the room where George Washington resigned as commander-in-chief of the continental army and where the Continental Congress met.
It was at a luncheon held later that day in honor of the Queen Mother that McKeldin faced a problem. He was a lifelong teetotaler due to witnessing his father’s alcoholism. McKeldin was so strict about never drinking or serving alcohol that as governor he refused to have alcoholic drinks in the governor’s executive mansion, to the consternation of guests, visiting members of the legislature and the press.
He knew that as host of a sit-down luncheon for visiting royalty, he was expected to make a toast, and such a toast traditionally involved alcohol. Concerned, he met with the head of the queen’s entourage, explained his dilemma and asked what he should do.
As McKeldin told me years later, when I served as his press secretary in his second term as mayor of Baltimore, the official responded, “Don’t worry. The Queen Mother will do whatever you do.”
Relieved, McKeldin came up with a solution that, as he recounted, seemed to satisfy everyone: Raising his hand in a mock re-enactment of the occasion, he declared in his famed oratorical style, “So I toasted the Queen Mother with a glass of Maryland Tomato Juice!”
That luncheon had one other memorable moment. Also attending was Governor McKeldin’s 18-year-old son. He was seated near the head table when a waiter accidentally spilled cream down his sleeve. Not knowing what to do and with a room full of dignitaries, the teenager just sat there, staring ahead.
The Queen Mother saw all this and the boy’s stoic reaction. Then, marveling at his example of a “British stiff upper lip,” she remarked to his father, the governor, “He should go into the diplomatic service.”
M. Hirsh Goldberg (email@example.com) served as press secretary and speechwriter for Theodore R. McKeldin during his second term as Baltimore mayor (1963-1967). Mr. Goldberg is the author of five nationally published books and numerous op-eds.