After the passing of Queen Elizabeth II last week, my mom, Susan Mason shared a treasured memory of being on an outing with dear Israeli friends and running into Queen Elizabeth in my hometown of Lexington, Ky.
While living in Lexington when I was young, our family made fast friends with a family from Israel. The father was a post-doctoral researcher in the Pharmacy School at the University of Kentucky and has since become an internationally respected scientist at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. His wife recently retired after a successful career as a psychiatric nurse at the Hadassah Medical Organization.
Our Israeli friends only resided in Lexington for a few short years, but they were back visiting us in October of 1984. I left for high school that morning as my parents and their friends prepared for an afternoon at Keeneland, which is an internationally revered Thoroughbred racetrack. If you’ve never been there, I highly recommend it. Even if you’re not a fan of Thoroughbred racing, the grounds at Keeneland are stunning and offer a great way to enjoy a day in a unique, park-like setting with friends and family.
As my mom tells the story, it was a lovely Fall afternoon when they arrived at Keeneland and parked their car. In my parents’ usual fashion, their goal was to show up around the time of the fourth race of the day to avoid the bulk of the traffic and crowds of people all heading toward the entrance. As they walked towards the entrance, the parking area was full of cars but most of the people were already inside.
That’s when my mom noticed a solitary woman quite close to them but on the other side of a fence. She appeared to be alone; no one was walking with her. She wore an elegant outfit that included a hat, handbag and gloves. My dad remembers my mom whispering something along the lines of: “That woman looks familiar. I must know her from around town, but she looks a lot like Queen Elizabeth. Why would she be wearing gloves on such a hot day?” They all just kept walking to the entrance.
It wasn’t until they saw the day’s racing form that they realized the Queen was actually in the house that day. She was there for the inaugural race of “Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup” in her honor. After the running of the race, the Queen–with her gloved hands–presented the trophy to the winning jockey. The jockey accepted the trophy and then extended his hand to shake. The Queen did not reciprocate. After listening to the news following the recent death of Elizabeth II, we learned queens do not shake hands.
My parents’ wonderful afternoon at Keeneland became a lasting memory they continue to share with their friends. Nowadays, the vast distance between their home in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and their friends’ home in Tel Aviv physically separates them, but the strong link between our families continues as a result of many shared experiences–including that day when the Queen was at the races with them.
Each year since 1984, Keeneland has continued to present the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup in the Fall racing season in honor of Britain’s longest reigning monarch. The Queen exemplified a lifetime of strong leadership, with grace and dignity. Whatever feelings you may have about the British monarchy, it was easy to admire The Queen for her intelligence and steadiness as a female leader, particularly coming during an era when few female leaders were visible on the world scene.
Hadassah has empowered generations of female leaders as a primary goal of its organizational structure. Back when my mom first moved to Lexington with her brand-new young family in the early 1970s, she joined Hadassah to find a community. Not only did she make lifelong friendships through Hadassah, but she also found leadership training that instilled the confidence that served her throughout her career and her life as she eventually moved around to different places. My mom served as president of Hadassah Lexington and on the board of the Central States Region. She remains an active leadership board member in Hadassah Cape Cod. I have followed in her footsteps as president of my local chapter, and I look forward to lifting up future generations of female leaders. Maybe someday female world leaders will be everywhere we turn, but in the meantime, Hadassah will continue to train female leaders for the future.