John O’Toole mourns Queen Elizabeth II after 45 years of correspondence


Clara Martinez

K2 Teacher John O’Toole stands with one of many Queen Elizabeth II poster portraits hung in his classroom. O’Toole attended the Queen’s lying-in-state ceremony Sept. 16 and spent the 10-day mourning period following her death reflecting on previous encounters with the Queen.

Clara Martinez, Lead Culture Editor

The final time K2 Teacher John O’Toole saw Queen Elizabeth II, she waved from the Buckingham Palace balcony in 2022. O’Toole said he had camped the night before in hopes of seeing the queen during her Platinum Jubilee “Trooping the Colour” procession to celebrate 70 years on the throne. 

“I had to fight back the crowd going down just to get a tiny glimpse of her on the balcony,” he said. 

O’Toole said his love for the queen first began with an electronic encyclopedia articles about the royal family, predating the capabilities of Google search. He said he read a brief paragraph on her life as a kid and immediately “fell in love with the queen.” 

O’Toole said his first direct correspondence with the queen took place in 1977 when he lived in Massachusetts. He said he wrote a handwritten note to the queen for her Silver Jubilee, celebrating 25 years on the throne, and received a letter signed by the queen’s assistant, Lady-in-Waiting Patricia Abergavenny, in return.

O’Toole said he still remembers the queen’s Silver Jubilee fondly after receiving a signed thank-you note from the queen’s Lady-in-Waiting Patricia Abergavenny. He had previously sent the queen a letter of congratulations from Massuchusetts, and has been holding onto the letter he received back since 1977. (Clara Martinez)

Since then, O’Toole said he has queued overnight along the mall leading up to Buckingham Palace to attend the subsequent Gold, Diamond and Platinum Jubilees.

O’Toole said he bidded farewell to the queen after queuing for hours while she was lying-in-state in Westminster Hall Sept. 16. When he had the opportunity to walk past her coffin and crown jewels, O’Toole said he took his third and concluding bow as a sign of respect for Her Majesty. He said his first two bows were in 2000, standing directly across from the queen.

O’Toole said he had a short job at Buckingham Palace to help members of the general public who required assistance maneuvering around certain areas of the property. O’Toole said he met the queen when she arrived at Buckingham Palace for her mother’s 100th birthday and stopped by to thank the employees for helping others tour the grounds.

O’Toole said he still remembers his eagerness when he realized the queen would make an appearance.

“I knew that she was walking around,” he said. “I wasn’t paying attention to what I was supposed to be doing because I was aware that she was coming.”

He said he can still recall the queen’s yellow dress with a pattern of petunias, a type of flower. When the queen greeted them, O’Toole said employees stepped back to bow or curtsy.

“She spoke to us and asked if everything was okay,” he said. “I stepped forward to say ‘Yes, Your Majesty,’ which was very exciting.”

Graphic by Clara Martinez

Given his connection to the monarchy, when O’Toole heard the royal family was asked to gather at Balmoral Castle in Scotland Sept. 9, O’Toole said he went home and “hoped and prayed” as he awaited further news. When the news arrived of her passing, O’Toole said it still came as a shock.

“I was devastated when it finally happened,” he said. “I still have a little disbelief.”

Throughout the 10-day mourning period which concluded Sept. 19, O’Toole said he has struggled to accept the news of her death.

“Disbelief is a comfort,” he said. “Her mother lived until 101, so I thought we had five years at least.”

O’Toole said the queen’s reputation and widespread appreciation of her reign extend beyond an audience of royalists.

“Even people who don’t like the monarchy I think give her credit for being an incredible woman,” he said.

O’Toole said his own admiration for the queen comes from “the way she has lived her life as constant and dependable and serving.”

O’Toole ultimately said the queen’s legacy and impact on the U.K. has not ended with her death or the beginning of King Charles III’s reign.

“She was the queen that everyone knew,” he said. “When we say queen, that’s who everyone thinks of, and Charles doesn’t have that history.”

Graphic by Clara Martinez