Walter E. Massey met Queen Elizabeth on three occasions, but it was the second time that he learned an important tip from her, he says.
In a recent interview with his publisher. Massey, declares: “I think it's valuable to recall those moments not only for my personal growth, but also to share with others around the world.”
in November, 2003. Massey was head of the National Science Foundation when President George W Bush hosted the Queen and her family. The dinner was at the London home of the American Ambassador.
“Somehow, of the 60 guests, I was amazed to find myself sitting next to the Queen, with President Bush on the other side,” says Massey.
Massey says that the two of them became immediately comfortable with each other, and that they must have talked for more than two hours.
“Family was always an important topic for the Queen,” says Massey. “So I learned how much she missed her closest friend, sister Margaret, who had died earlier that year.”
At the time, she was also clearing-out the apartment where her mother, the Queen Mother had lived and had also passed recently—in the fall of 2022. Prince Andrew wanted to move in. “Nothing had been done in years,” she mused, so serious cleaning was necessary.
But the memorable lesson for Massey came when she described how she had received an invitation to celebrate the 500th anniversary of a major battle between the British and French. The invitation had been sent by fax from the office of French President Jacques Chirac.
“Would you believe they faxed an invitation to the Queen of England?” she asked with a sigh, adding, “no one writes letters anymore.”
“I see that today as a major lesson about personal communication,” remembers Massey. “So, I couldn't wait until I got back to the states to send her a handwritten note reminding her of how much I enjoyed our conversation. Can you imagine sending a letter by fax to someone of her world standing? It was a reminder to me of the personal touch that correspondence can have.”
That was the second and most noteworthy of the three times, according to Massey. He had met the Queen for the first time in the late 90s on the grounds of Windsor Palace.
In their third encounter—in 2007—at the British Embassy in Washington, her lady in waiting, was reading the names in the reception line. “When I was announced as the Honorable Dr. Walter E. Massey, the Queen seemed to recognize me from 2003,” he says. “I will never forget her response.”
“Oh, my dinner partner,” she smiled.
Massey, senior advisor to the president at the University of Chicago, is chair of the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization, and has held major leadership positions at Argonne National Laboratory and the National Science Foundation. Barry Beckham is publisher of Massey's 2020 memoir “In the Eye of the Storm: My Time as CEO of Bank of America During the Country's Worst Financial Crisis.”
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