Nancy West Harrington has lived in Natchitoches longer than most folks can remember; three quarters of a century to be imprecise. She left her native Britain for the United States after marrying a Cloutierville Yankee named Billy Harrington. “We came by ship in 1946,” she says of her transatlantic journey to Billy’s family farm.
Over the decades, Nancy, now 98, has maintained ties to her English countryside community through correspondence and frequent visits. Planning trips to her hometown of Roxwell, England, has played an enormous role in Nancy’s life. “I always planned to go back home. The first time it was with my first child, Rick, when he was 1 year old. We stayed for 13 months,” she says. “I had my children three years apart to make it easier for us to make the trips to England.”
Nancy’s visits have made her a celebrity in Roxwell, where she was featured in the village newsletter as recently as June. When she and Billy marked their 50th year of marriage by renewing their vows in 1995 in the chapel where they were wed the village threw an extravaganza, and a portion of their ceremony was nationally televised as part of ITV Network’s coverage of the 50th anniversary of VE Day.
As Nancy’s family has grown, her children and grandchildren have kept their family’s connection to the tiny community alive by reaching out to Roxwell residents and sharing family stories. As she approaches her centennial, her grandson, Eddie Harrington, decided to surprise Nancy for a recent birthday by sending a letter to a long-serving community leader whose official duties include representing Roxwell in the royal court. The exact contents of Eddie’s letter are lost, but it’s safe to say it was a different kettle of fish than the Harrington’s prior correspondence with friends, relatives and other Roxwell residents, for Eddie had addressed an epistle to none other than Her Majesty The Queen at Buckingham Palace.
When a response arrived, it was signed by one Richenda Elton and addressed from a place called Sandringham House. Elton’s reply was quick to provide assurances that the Harrington letter was received and appreciated by “Her Majesty”. Sandringham House is the private residence of the reigning British monarch, as opposed to its public counterpart, Buckingham Palace. The writer, Lady Susan Richenda Elton, was responding in her official capacity as one of Queen Elizabeth II’s Ladies-in-Waiting: a small team of women who serve as the Queen’s personal entourage. Traditionally drawn from the British nobility, the Ladies-in-Waiting assisted the matriarchal monarch in her duties throughout her reign, and Elton had the distinction of serving her liege from 1987 up until the queen’s passing Sept. 8.
The body of Elton’s letter described the queen’s interest in Nancy’s story as recounted by her grandson. Elton recognized Nancy for the circumstances that led her to emigrate to the United States as one of more than 80,000 “War Brides”. While World War II continued for several months after the Harringtons married in 1945, it was the Allied victory in Europe and the prospect of being redeployed away from Roxwell that prompted Billy Harrington to propose to Nancy and frantically arrange a wedding three days later in the Church of Roxwell.
The letter recognized Eddie’s obvious pride stemming from Nancy’s extraordinary kindness and service to African American teachers in Natchitoches during the era of segregation. Upon hearing the letter read aloud to her, Nancy recalls the friendships she formed while working for the school board and points to a hand-quilted blanket given to her by one such friend. “She came to see me earlier this year and brought me that,” she says. “She wrote on the back, to Mrs. Harrington from Diane Warren and I retired from the School Board office something like 22 years ago.”
Nancy’s other contemporaries in the school district remember her with similar fondness. Retired Natchitoches teacher Paul Morgan describes his memory of seeing her during visits to the School Board office. “All of my memories was she was a nice person (and) a good person. Each time you would go in the office she always had a smile.”
The letter politely declined Eddie’s request for a personal response bearing the queen’s signature, citing a rule put in place to handle with fairness the enormous volume of correspondence the queen received. In its closing, the letter cordially congratulated Nancy for her then recently celebrated birthday and enclosed a photograph of Queen Elizabeth celebrating her 70th anniversary alongside her consort, Prince Philip.
With the Queen’s passing, the Harrington family turned their attention back to the letter for comfort during Britain’s 10 days of mourning. Nancy says she followed the royal funeral services closely. “I went to Rodney’s house and watched it,” she says. “It was interesting seeing the family coming in.“
While the Queen’s official response to the Harrington letter may not have been what Nancy and her grandson had hoped for, it illustrates the tremendous effort she and her family put into the relationships they maintain, both across the globe and at home in Natchitoches. She still wears a small golden amulet in the shape of a leaf around her neck. It’s one of several replicas made of an artifact taken from the earth of her family farm, and to her, it represents her enduring love of Roxwell and its people. On her finger, she wears a thin golden ring given to her by the only person she loved more.