LONDON (AP) – The Queen Mother Elizabeth, a symbol of courage and dignity during a tumultuous century of war, social upheaval and royal scandal, died in her sleep Saturday, Buckingham Palace said. She was 101 years old.
After years of frailty and ill health, the queen mother died at Royal Lodge, Windsor, outside London, the Palace said. Her death came seven weeks after the death of her younger daughter, Princess Margaret, at age 71.
Queen Elizabeth II was at her mother's side when she passed away. The queen mother had been rarely seen in recent months because of her failing health.
The queen mother "had become increasingly frail in recent weeks following her bad cough and chest infection over Christmas," said a Palace spokesman, who was not named in keeping with tradition.
Britain's main television and radio channels interrupted regular programs with news of the death, which came during the four-day Easter holiday. National figures and ordinary people from all walks of life united in expressing admiration and grief for the queen mother.
Prime Minister Tony Blair said the queen mother was a symbol of Britain's "decency and courage"and the whole nation would join with the royal family in mourning her death.
"During her long and extraordinary life, her grace, her sense of duty and her remarkable zest for life made her loved and admired by people of all ages and backgrounds, revered within our borders and beyond," he said.
Former prime minister Margaret Thatcher said the queen mother was "a wonderful queen and an extraordinary person" whose death was "an irreplaceable loss to the whole nation."
Thatcher's successor, former Prime Minister John Major said: "The queen mother has been a benevolent influence in the lives of generations of Britons ... our country is the richer for her life and the poorer at her death."
A brief statement of condolence was issued from the Texas White House.
"The president and Mrs. Bush are deeply saddened by the death of the queen mother," said White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe, who was with the president at his Texas ranch.
The government said Parliament will be recalled from recess so politicians can pay their respects to the queen mother.
The queen mother's body was expected to be moved to the Royal Chapel of All Saints in Windsor Great Park on Sunday morning. Funeral plans were expected to be announced Sunday with the ceremony scheduled to take place in Westminster Abbey in London.
Prince Charles and his sons Princes William and Harry were "completely devastated" after being informed of the news on a skiing trip in Switzerland, a royal spokesman said. Charles, who was very close to his grandmother, was cutting short his vacation to return home on Sunday.
Scores of mourners, some bearing flowers, gathered outside Windsor Castle after hearing the news. They stood at the castle gates, quietly talking among themselves. The bells of the nearby St. John the Baptist church tolled to mark the queen mother's death.
"She's like everybody's grandmother," said Sheila Livingstone, who left a bunch of flowers at the castle gates.
The queen mother was as popular at the end of her life as she had been a half-century before.
She was best known to younger generations as the mother of Queen Elizabeth II and grandmother of Prince Charles. Remarkably sprightly despite her age, the queen mother was a fixture at royal occasions, delighting in mixing with the public and greeting people who flocked to meet her.
But those who were young when German bombs rained down on London in 1940 remembered her as the queen who endured the blitz with them and visited their shattered homes.
The last years of her life were overshadowed by unhappiness and scandal within the royal family, as three of her six grandchildren divorced. The divorce of Princes Charles from Princess Diana and her death in 1997 in a car crash in Paris shook the British monarchy to its core amid widespread anger that the popular princess had been spurned by the royal family.
The queen mother helped to shore up the throne, her quiet demeanor and public appearances helping to restore confidence in the royal family.
The queen mother underwent extensive surgery in 1996 and 1998 for hip replacements and was hospitalized last year after falling and breaking her collar bone. Until a few months ago, she continued a regular schedule of public appearances that would have challenged a much younger person. When her health became very frail, she sometimes appeared in public on an electric cart that was christened the "queen mum mobile."
While admired for her dignity and sense of duty, the queen mother was also revered for enjoying life. She relished horse racing, social gatherings and was known to enjoy a drink.
The queen mother might have been expected to retire from public life when her husband, King George VI, died in 1952. But after their eldest daughter's succession to the throne, she took a new title, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, and a full load of royal duties, which she carried into her 90s, delighting in meeting people from all walks of life.
Over two generations of dramatic social change and upheaval, through the abdication crisis that put her reluctant husband on the throne in 1936, the devastation of World War II and the royal family breakups of the 1990s, the queen mother emerged as a symbol of stability and modesty.
On her 80th birthday, she even won praise from William Hamilton, a lawmaker who vehemently opposed the monarchy.
"If there had ever been a revolution in Britain in the last 80 years, she surely would have been spared," Hamilton said. "Unlike some of her brood, she never seems to put a foot wrong."
The former Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon, daughter of a Scottish earl, was married in 1923 to Prince Albert, Duke of York, second son of King George V.
They had two daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret Rose, and lived quietly until 1936. The duke's elder brother succeeded to the throne that January as King Edward VIII, and by mid-December had abdicated to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson.
The Duke of York took the throne as King George VI, a reluctant monarch whom many believed unsuited to the job.
But the steadfastness and sympathy of the new king and his wife through the deprivation and danger of World War II cemented a bond with the nation that held the queen mother firmly in British affections for the next half-century.
The queen mother made fewer appearances in her mid-90s when she suffered from arthritis. She overcame much of the problem when, at age 95, she underwent a hip replacement in November 1995. She walked out of the hospital 18 days later, waving aside offers of assistance.
She broke the other hip while out viewing horses on a bitter January day in 1997, and had an emergency replacement.
Copyright © 2002 The Associated Press