Queen Elizabeth, Once a Visitor to Grounds, Dies at 96

September 8, 2022
Queen Elizabeth, in a floral dress, gloves and a hat, stands at the top of the Rotunda steps and waves at a gathered crowd

Queen Elizabeth II visited the Rotunda for a luncheon in 1976 as part of a bicentennial tour of America. (Photo by Ed Roseberry)

Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-serving British monarch who held the throne for 70 years, died Thursday at the age of 96.

The queen visited the University of Virginia in 1976 as part of a multi-city tour to commemorate the U.S. bicentennial. On July 10 of that year, the queen’s plane landed at the Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport as 50,000 people lined U.S. 29 to see the motorcade travel to the University.

She strolled the Lawn while 18,000 people crowded onto Grounds to witness the event. In the Dome Room of the Rotunda, then-Virginia Gov. Mills E. Godwin hosted a luncheon in the queen’s honor.

UVA History and Protocol Officer Sandy Gilliam chaired the planning committee for the queen’s historic visit. He remembers people flocking to the Lawn just after sunrise, hours before the queen’s scheduled 10 a.m. arrival. While the event lasted just a few hours, Gilliam said many days of planning, preparation and practice preceded it.

“I got fairly close with the queen’s private secretary and a young guy from the British Embassy that was assigned,” he recalled. “He would come and spend several nights at our house because we were having rehearsals and that sort of thing.”

Gilliam received a signed photograph of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, given to a few of the people instrumental to the event.

The bicentennial visit was one of the queen’s four visits to Virginia. From the University archives, here are some photographs of the queen’s visit 46 years ago.

President Hereford smiles and touches his face as he walks down the Lawn with Queen Elizabeth
Queen Elizabeth met with then-University President Frank L. Hereford Jr. shortly after arriving on Grounds. (Photo courtesy UVA Libraries)
A placard reading Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II sits on a table beside a glass goblet and silver serve-ware
The queen was the guest of honor in a Dome Room luncheon hosted by then-Virginia Gov. Mills E. Godwin. (Photo courtesy UVA Libraries)
Queen Elizabeth sits at a banquet table with several other people chatting
The luncheon in the queen’s honor was part of a visit to Charlottesville that also included a trip to Monticello. (Photo courtesy UVA Libraries)
From the top floor of the Rotunda Dome Room, people are seated at several large banquet tables and serving staff line the back wall
Queen Elizabeth’s visit to the Rotunda and Charlottesville in 1976 was one of four visits to Virginia in her 70-year reign. (Photo courtesy UVA Libraries)

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