Locals react to Duke of Edinburgh’s death, recall his visit to Santa Barbara
Nearly 40 years ago, the late Prince Philip and his wife, Queen Elizabeth II, made a royal appearance in Santa Barbara — amid an epic storm season.
The British royals weathered the cold rain and were spotted at the Santa Barbara Airport, County Courthouse and Santa Barbara Mission, along with then-President Ronald Reagan’s ranch northwest of Santa Barbara. They even had plans to walk along Stearns Wharf, but those were washed out by the rainstorm.
As the world mourns the death of the prince that occurred early Friday morning at the Windsor Castle, residents of Santa Barbara shared their reactions to the news that hit rather close to home, with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, living just down the road in Montecito.
Prince Philip’s death at age 99 follows increased publicity of the royal family after Prince Harry and Ms. Markle’s bombshell interview with Oprah Winfrey in Montecito, where they raised concerns over alleged racism in the royal family and poor treatment of the Duke and Duchess.
However, the Montecito couple released a statement on their nonprofit website to pay tribute to Prince Philip, writing: “In loving memory of His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh 1921-2021. Thank you for your service …You will be greatly missed.”
The Duke of Edinburgh, who supported the Queen as the longest-serving consort to a monarch for 65 years, was hospitalized in February and released in March after a successful heart operation. He retired from public duties in August 2017 and would have turned 100 years old in June.
The Queen and Prince Philip had the longest royal marriage in history — more than seven decades. She called her prince her “strength and stay” in a speech she gave on their 50th wedding anniversary in 1997.
“I think that he did a very nice job of embodying the service ethic that the royal family, at its best, exemplifies,” Dr. Alister Chapman, a history professor at Westmont College, told the News-Press Friday. The professor was born and raised in England and is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.
“I think perhaps one of the most impressive things about Prince Philip was the way in which he was willing to support and live in his wife’s shadow for 23 years,” Dr. Chapman said. “In that sense, I think he was ahead of most men in his generation in terms of his willingness to respect and support female leadership, and for me, that’s perhaps his most impressive characteristic looking back at it historically.”
Dr. Chapman added that although the job of the royals has its privileges, it’s also a “tough job.”
“I don’t envy the life he had, but I think he carried it off with a great deal of poise, and I think he was a great public servant for many, many years,” he said.
Former Santa Barbara Mayor Sheila Lodge recalled meeting the Queen and Prince Philip when they visited in March 1983.
Mrs. Lodge was mayor at the time and said that there was “a great deal of excitement in Santa Barbara” when the royals’ visit was announced. The visit meant closing off the streets around the County Courthouse and the royals coming up the wrong way on Anacapa Street, where they got out and walked under the big arch.
“I didn’t have any real contact with Prince Philip during their visit. I was with the Queen, but my husband was with him and said he kept making remarks about the proceedings under his breath as they went on,” Mrs. Lodge told the News-Press on Friday. “They were at the courthouse for all of 15 minutes, but it was a big moment of excitement.”
Mrs. Lodge said the Queen was very concerned about any damages caused by the rainstorms and asked Mayor Lodge if there had been much damage in Santa Barbara. A friend of Mrs. Lodge showed her the Queen’s daily schedule, which detailed when she’d wake up, eat breakfast and go to meetings.
“In between, during the day, there were these little 10-minute intervals marked ‘retire.’ My friend, the wife of a British ambassador, said to me, ‘Queen Elizabeth is the only person in the world who plans what time she’ll go to the loo,’” Mrs. Lodge said.
The former mayor added, chuckling, “As we were walking toward the arch, I realized she’s another middle-aged woman with kid problems. Her children were giving here quite a bit of publicly-noticed trouble, and mine were too, so I felt like we had a certain common situation.”
The former mayor of Santa Barbara said the prince’s good works will be missed, including being a force for environmental issues and serving as president of the World Wildlife Fund.
Current Santa Barbara Mayor Cathy Murillo sent a statement to the News-Press, writing, “I offer Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and the royal family my deepest sympathy on the passing of Prince Philip. May they find peace in their grief, even as the pandemic makes the death of a loved one so much more difficult.”
Andrew Coffin, the director of the Reagan Ranch and vice president of Young America’s Foundation, also reflected on the royals’ visit to the ranch tucked away in the Santa Ynez Mountains on what he called a “stormy, rain-soaked March day.”
“The visit highlights the unique role that Ronald Reagan’s Santa Barbara home played as ‘the Western White House,’ welcoming leaders from across the globe who traveled here to visit our 40th president,” Mr. Coffin told the News-Press. “The special visit from the Queen and Prince Philip was especially meaningful to the Reagans — President Reagan later wrote in a thank you note for their visit, ‘We miss you. I know your visit to our West Coast became a harrowing, tempest-tossed experience but through it all your unfailing good humor and graciousness won the hearts of our people.’”
The director added that visitors of the Reagan Ranch Center on State Street downtown can learn more about the Queen and Prince Philip’s visit, and even watch video clips of the couple “making the wet trek up Refugio Road in a four wheel drive Secret Service suburban.”
For interested visitors, the galleries will reopen for free public tours on April 29.
From being the first member of the royal family to do a televised interview to founding the Royal Academy of Engineering to giving up an active naval career solely to serve the Queen, Prince Philip is widely remembered for helping steer the royal family and uphold the monarchy.
Erika Rappaport is the chair of UCSB’s history department and an expert in modern British history. She told the News-Press that Prince Philip’s death “definitely marks the end of an era in British history.”
“He was born at a time when Britain was at the peak of its imperial power, and now in the post-Brexit moment, the nation is facing real questions about its global role,” she said. “Philip has helped guide Britain through such momentous shifts, but he has contributed to them as well. He helped create a more open and accessible monarchy, but at least since the death of Diana, this openness has translated into relentless media attention, which in part led his son and daughter-in-law to abandon their public duties and move to Montecito.”
Funeral plans have yet to be announced, and it is unclear whether both the Duke and Duchess will fly back to England with a pregnant Ms. Markle.
Prince Philip is survived by his wife of 73 years, Queen Elizabeth II, their daughter Princess Anne and their three sons: next-in-line-to-the-throne Prince Charles, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward. He also leaves behind eight grandchildren, including Prince William and Prince Harry and nine great-grandchildren, including Prince George, Princess Charlotte, Prince Louis, Archie and Princess Eugenie’s new baby boy, August, whose middle name is Philip.