Family: The night Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip taught a Miami leader that publishing was ‘fun’

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Just over 31 years ago, former Miami Herald publisher David Lawrence Jr. learned that being at the helm of South Florida’s major daily newsroom was “fun.”

Who told him so?

No less than Prince Philip of England.

Turns out the royals, led by Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, were visiting Miami in May 1991. Lawrence, his wife, Roberta, and other local dignitaries were invited to join royalty aboard Her Majesty’s yacht, Britannia, for dinner.

Queen Elizabeth II, the longest ruling monarch in British history, died Thursday after seven decades on the throne, Buckingham Palace announced.

She was 96.

Lawrence wrote about an unforgettable dinner experience with the Queen for his column published that weekend in the Miami Herald.

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Here is that column.

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A royal Miami evening with the Queen

By David Lawrence Jr.

Published in Miami Herald on May 19, 1991.

It’s unlikely the Lawrences will be having dinner with the Queen any time again soon, so I had better write about it this time. Snippets from a royal evening in Miami:

The Queen never quite joined in our dinner-table conversation aboard Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia. No doubt it was a mix-up in seating. It turned out that she was a table away with the likes of former Presidents of the United States and U.S. senators. Two of each. And one governor.

There were 56 people seated for dinner. At least half that number of waiters, each with “Royal Yacht” emblazoned on a sleeve, served them.

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Place mats with British scenes. Crystal — four glasses with each setting — bearing the royal insignia. Three yellow balls of butter. A silver dish of cashews. Nautical art and ship models around the dining room; African artifacts, too. Silver lamps atop a lace runner down the middle of each gleaming wood table. Grapes, green and purple, on the table; also peaches and pears. Huge gold urns on the dinner tables to celebrate Lord Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar. Menus in French. And the biggest napkins I’ve ever seen.

The best thing on the menu was the first item. “Oeufs Drumkilbo,” it was called. Lobster with egg and shrimp is what it tasted like.

At our end of the table, we steered away from matters of state and kingdom. Maggie Codina, originally from Cuba, spoke of her love for American basketball; her favorite team (the Detroit Pistons); and her favorite player (“The Worm,” she called him ... Piston Dennis Rodman). Judy Gibbons, originally from Wales, and I spoke about children and schools. Jeb Bush said that the royal yacht’s carved woods reminded him of “an old hotel.” A fine one, to be sure. A royal evening, but a conversation among commoners.

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The day Queen Elizabeth visited South Florida, and what we thought about each other

It didn’t look as though there would be really any chance at all to talk with the Queen.

Before dinner Friday night, and right after, she spent the longest time talking with former President Reagan and his wife, Nancy. Almost everybody else stayed a few feet away. But the Reagans left before the next 200 guests came in for the 9:30 black tie reception. That left some conversational room for the rest of us.

So we (my wife Bobbie and I) did get to talk with the Queen. We joined her conversation with Maggie Codina’s husband, Armando, the businessman and civic leader. The Queen asks good questions, listens intently, and her smile is friendly.

What did she think of Miami?

Our diversity of people most impressed her. She wanted to talk about a classroom that she visited that afternoon at Booker T. Washington Middle School. The students, from many different countries, were learning English.

“They were wonderful,” she said. “So smart.”

She could see Miami’s and South Florida’s opportunity as gateway to Latin America and the Caribbean. She thought that we lived in a beautiful area.

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Anything surprise her? It was “wetter” than she imagined, referring to the downpour during her afternoon visit to Vizcaya. In fact, we told her, that hard shower lasted only 10 minutes. We need more rain.

She was pretty sure that change would come to Cuba. “It’s happening everywhere else.”

“When?” she asked Codina.

He promised her that Cuba would change; but, of course, he couldn’t tell her when.

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“What a Country” is the name of Armando Codina’s boat. It’s a nice big boat, by American non-royal standards. But the royal yacht is so big — 412 feet long — that Codina told me later that he might have to burn his own boat in shame. He was only joking. I think.

Betty Ford, the former First Lady, had a great smile when she spoke of the success of her book of several years ago, “Betty: A Glad Awakening.” Already published in Britain and the Soviet Union as well as this country, she thinks that it might be published soon in China.

Chief Judge Larry King of the Federal District Court was telling U.S. Sen. Connie Mack how much he appreciated his help in getting three judgeship vacancies well on the way to being filled.

Wayne Huizenga, of Blockbuster, was bullish on the prospects for major-league baseball here — if not this round, then no later than 1995.

Gov. Lawton Chiles and First Lady Rhea were feeling good about what was achieved in the just-finished legislative session.

Public-relations consultant Barbara Gothard and lawyer Bob Hudson were surely smiling for the first time in weeks after shepherding many of the intricate arrangements for a successful royal visit.

In the receiving line came the nicest contribution to my ego in quite a while.

“Oh, you’re the famous editor,” said Prince Philip.

Well, that might be stretching it a bit, I responded, explaining my current responsibilities as publisher after years as an editor.

“Being publisher means you have more fun,” said the prince.

Some days, I suppose. This day, for sure.

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