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Britain Mourns Popular 'Queen Mum' - 2002-03-30

Britain's Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, died Saturday at the age of 101. She was seen as a symbol of the monarchy. And, her popularity extended beyond Britain's borders.

Britain's Queen Mum, as she was affectionately known, was born Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon at the start of the 20th century. Her life spanned a century of war and turmoil and technological innovations that would change the way we live and interact.

During her life, she watched Britain fight and win two devastating world wars, but lose an empire. She was thrust into the role of Queen when her husband's brother suddenly abdicated the throne to marry the woman he loved. But, her gracious smile and winning ways soon made her the most popular member of Britain's royal family.

As Queen Elizabeth, wife of King George the VI, she helped restore faith in the monarchy when she refused to leave London during the bombings of World War II.

"War, at all times, has called for the fortitude of women, for we, no less than men, have real and vital work to do," she said.

Her popularity soared with her visits with wounded soldiers and her tours of London during the blitz.

An elderly Londoner called her simply, one of us.

"If you were in London during the war, she really did look after the people. She used to turn out to see the people who had been bombed out during the war. She was one of us during the war," she said.

More than one-half century later, the now-widowed mother of Britain's Queen again helped restore the monarchy's popularity, when death and scandal sparked criticism of the royal family.

When she turned 100 as the 21st century dawned, Prime Minister Tony Blair paid tribute to her sense of devotion and service to the country.

"I think what really marks her out is this extraordinary sense of duty and obligation to others that she has. We're not just honoring a special person in terms of royalty. We're also honoring someone who has been a great example to us all of service," Mr. Blair said.

A special church service for her centennial celebration summed up her life. "We recall her long years of public service in peace and in war, her love of life, her delight in people, her steadfastness, her humor," the Archbishop of Cantebury said.

Indeed, the Queen Mother had her lighter moments too. She always enjoyed a good joke and a daily dose of gin and tonic. She also loved a good horse race.

"She's a very special person, and I don't think we'll see anyone like her again," a woman said.

A comment from a fan during the Queen Mother's 100th birthday celebration is echoed by many Britons now at her passing.