LONDON — As a female monarch and head of state, for 70 years Queen Elizabeth II braved a world dominated by men. From her extremely rarified perch, she encouraged high-profile women in public service, according to a few who crossed her path.
Paying tribute to the monarch in Britain’s Parliament, former Prime Minister Theresa May said the queen was “quite simply the most remarkable person I have ever met.”
Recalling their regular encounters — prime ministers met the queen weekly for private audiences — May said Friday that they “were not meetings with a high and mighty monarch, but a conversation with a woman of experience and knowledge and immense wisdom.”
“What made those audiences so special was the understanding the queen had of issues,” she added.
The queen’s deep understanding of current affairs — an acuity she rarely, if ever, displayed in public, since as a constitutional monarch she was at pains to avoid taking a public stand on political issues — also struck Jane Hartley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.K.
“I was so taken personally by not only how substantive she was, because she cared deeply about policy and she cared deeply about what was happening in the world, but her sense of warmth and her sense of caring just came through immediately,” she told NBC News.
“She represented the best of what a public servant is, duty and responsibility, putting your country first and she did it for 70 years,” Hartley said. “It’s truly remarkable.”
Britain’s first minister for women, Harriet Harman, also paid her respects, telling lawmakers that the queen reached out to her after she had been “sacked.”
“My diary was empty, and my phone stopped ringing,” Harman said. “My office was astonished to get a call from Buckingham Palace. No one else wanted to have anything to do with me, but the queen wanted to see me,” she said.
The caller invited her to “take tea” with the queen.
She added: “My point is that the relationship between our queen and Parliament and our queen and government was never just on paper, but was always active and always encouraging.”
For Peter McLoughlin, a senior lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland, it was very powerful for an important country like the United Kingdom to have a female head of state and head of the armed forces and “the masculinity that would be associated with that.”
“Most of us would only know a female monarch and there haven’t been many,” he said.
The queen’s impact as a female head of state no doubt had an impact, McLoughlin added.
“Whatever criticisms you might have about the U.K., it is on its third female prime minister. If you compare that to the U.S. or France, that’s really good. Even Germany has only had one,” he said.
Britain’s new prime minister, Liz Truss, who took office Tuesday, praised the queen for having remained determined to carry out her duties even at the age of 96.
“It was just three days ago at Balmoral that she invited me to form a government and become her 15th prime minister,” Truss said. “Again she generously shared with me her deep experience of government, even in those last days.”
Zoe Chance, a senior lecturer at the Yale School of Management, said it will become clear over time what impact the queen’s death will have on the status of women in public office.
“She was so popular, so losing this person who has been viewed as a benevolent force will be a blow,” she said.