NEWS

Royal encounter which was decades in the making means the world to Alberta woman

12/31/2011 12:38 EST | Updated 03/01/2012 05:12 EST
It was 72 years in the making and lasted less than five minutes, but for Frances Miller, the chance to meet royalty was nothing less than a life-changing experience.

The 82-year-old from Medicine Hat, Alta., made headlines in early July during Prince William and Kate's whirlwind tour through Canada when she was given the chance to right a historical omission made decades ago.

When Miller presented flowers to the royal couple during their last moments on Canadian soil, she closed a chapter opened in 1939 when William's great grandfather was on the throne.

Miller, then nine, had been scheduled to make a similar presentation to King George VI and his wife, later known as the Queen Mother, during their rail trip across the country.

But the little girl and the observers who stood behind her were denied their chance to greet the royals when the train carrying them accidentally passed through their small town of Walsh, Alta., without stopping for a scheduled presentation.

Those disappointing memories were swept away on July 8 when Miller shook hands and exchanged a few words with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

"I didn't ever, ever think in my wildest dreams that anything like this could happen, and I never, ever thought it would," Miller said in a telephone interview.

Miller had resigned herself to a lifetime free of royal encounters and had even scheduled a trip to Ontario on the final day of William and Kate's tour, but then coincidence took a hand.

A local reporter who was having her hair cut by Miller's granddaughter, heard the story of the missed opportunity in 1939 and decided to write a story about it.

Editors at the paper were absorbed by the tale and decided to contact the federal government in hopes of having Miller included on the royal itinerary.

Those efforts paid off, and Miller began preparing for the long-delayed moment.

She practiced her curtsy, rescheduled her travel plans and was eagerly waiting on the tarmac of the Calgary Airport to see William and Kate off.

Despite all the preparations, Miller said, the exchange she'd anticipated for decades came perilously close to falling through once again.

"For a minute it looked like (William) was going to go right by me and I thought, 'Oh, this is going to happen again that I didn't get to do it,'" she said.

When the prince doubled back, however, he asked questions about the 1939 incident and joked that she was only getting second best this time, she said.

Kate thanked Miller for the red roses she presented and said it was a pleasure to meet her, she added.

Miller believed the publicity would die down once the royals were back home, but that hasn't proved true.

She has become a local celebrity and community speaker, making six royal presentations in seniors' homes in the past four months. More engagements are already booked for 2012, she said.

Strangers have stopped her on her weekly shopping rounds, and the details of her royal visit have now been noted on her opthalmology chart by a receptionist agog for details, she said.

Miller herself describes the experience as "wonderful," adding her meeting with William and Kate gives her confidence in the future of an institution she has valued all her life.

"(They're) just very delightful and personable," she said. "They're just genuine. I couldn't express it any other way. Some day they will make a wonderful king and queen."

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