As king, Edward was miserable. He wanted to marry Simpson and make her his queen. Tradition would not allow him to do that. British monarchs are not privileged to marry divorcees because the Church of England forbids it. Finally, Edward shocked the world by abdicating the throne, finding it impossible to perform his duties “without the support of the woman I love.” Princess Elizabeth’s father, the Duke of York, then unexpectedly had to assume the hereditary role and duties as King George VI.
A coronation is quite an occasion in England because, unlike our president’s tenure of eight years at most, a monarch’s is for a lifetime. Coronations just don’t happen every few years. Bearing that in mind, my maternal grandfather, Harry Ford Whitehead, who was born in County Kent England, took a notion that he wanted to go back to the British Isles to visit family and attend the 1937 coronation.
My grandfather, Harry Ford, was brought to the United States as a youngster by his mother’s sister, who had migrated years earlier. He assumed his aunt’s surname, Whitehead, and also “assumed” that he was adopted by her and her husband. Growing up in the Coeburn, Norton, Bondtown area of Virginia, he was a whiz at math and engineering. As an adult here in Harlan, he ran business which included a mining operation, a furniture store and a plumbing and heating establishment. Also, since the age of 21, he had voted in every election and even served several terms as a city judge.
Getting back to his notion of crossing the big pond, Papa Whitehead filled out the necessary papers, had the required photographs taken and applied for a passport. Time passed and finally a letter arrived from the passport bureau. It informed my grandfather that he was not a United States citizen and it was necessary for him to be naturalized before a passport could be issued. He was stunned, of course. He had assumed that at the time his aunt brought him to America, she had also adopted him and fulfilled requirements for citizenship. His assumptions were incorrect. Without citizenship, he couldn’t get a passport and without a passport, he couldn’t travel abroad.
In Washington, Kentucky had a Senator by the name of Robsion — the Hal Rogers of his time. My father knew him well and wrote to him explaining the plight of the “foreigner” in our midst and his dilemma. The senator did his best to solve and expedite the problem, but not soon enough for Papa Whitehead to return to England in time for the coronation. Shortly thereafter, Harry Ford Whitehead was made a citizen of the United States by a special act of Congress.
When Princess Elizabeth’s father died in 1952, she and her husband, Philip, were on holiday in Kenya. An emissary stood before her and spoke the traditional words, “The king is dead. Long live the queen.” She ascended the throne 60 years ago and has been an exemplary monarch, fulfilling her duties and keeping her pledge. Papa Whitehead would have been proud of her and wished her well. He was as proud of his English heritage as he was of his belated American citizenship.