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In U.S., British Citizens Find Grief Close at Hand but Long for Home

British Embassy/AP
Newspaper clippings, flowers, cards and candles placed in memory of Princess Diana outside the British Embassy in Washington.(AP)
By Victoria Benning
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 2, 1997;
Page A11

Dorothy Thomasson cut a striking and dignified figure in her navy dress, hose and shoes as she stood yesterday under the shade of a Union Jack umbrella.

It was only after closer inspection that one could see the tremble in her hands. She said she was trying not to break into tears as she stood near the end of a long line of mourners outside the British Embassy in Northwest Washington.

She was among hundreds of the heavy-hearted, who for a second day had come to pay tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales, who was killed in an automobile accident in Paris early Sunday.

For British citizens visiting or living in the Washington area, Diana's death at 36 was felt particularly hard. Many said they wished they could be home grieving with their countrymen. Instead, many found themselves glued to televisions -- or computer screens -- trying to glean every detail about the accident that killed Diana and her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed. Had they been home in England, they surely would be gathered in the streets offering solace to one another, many said.

Absent from their homeland, Thomasson and other Brits joined throngs of other grief-stricken mourners outside the embassy in the 3100 block of Massachusetts Avenue NW, where the steps have been turned into a shrine to the popular princess.

Traffic along Massachusetts Avenue near the embassy was backed up for several blocks as mourners and the simply curious stopped by. They brought flowers, candles and cards filled with praise and tribute. Most also braved 91-degree heat and a two-hour wait for a chance to write words of condolence in a special book in the embassy.

"It's worse being here, I think," said Thomasson, 59, a British citizen who has been in the United States for 28 years. "There's no one to stand by you -- no one's shoulder to lean your head on and have a really good cry . . . no one to comfort you. You feel so alone. I don't even think any of the neighbors in my apartment complex know I'm British."

Thomasson said she was watching television in her Arlington apartment when the news of Diana's accident and subsequent death flashed across the screen late Saturday night.

"I jumped off my sofa. . . . I just couldn't believe it," she recalled. "I still can't believe it. That poor baby. That poor baby."

Thomasson said she was eager to return to work today at the Indonesian Embassy, where co-workers often ask her questions about Diana and other members of the royal family. At last, perhaps, she'll have her shoulder to cry on, she said.

"You really do feel as if you should be back at home, where we could all lean on each other," said Chris Edwards, 48, a British citizen who was in Washington visiting a daughter and her newborn grandson. "We've been glued to the telly, trying to get all the news we can. I really hate that we won't be back home in time for the funeral, either."

Gayle Hodges, 18, another of Edwards's daughters, said she had spent hours on the Internet, checking out various chat rooms and news groups dedicated to information on Diana's death.

"We haven't heard much about details of the crash," said Edwards's other daughter, Micala Paulson, 24, of Washington. "We just feel a need to know exactly what happened."

The three women had hoped to write words of condolence in the book at the embassy but decided the wait was too long with Paulson's 11-day-old son.

Even British citizens who aren't particularly fond of the royal family said they were saddened by Diana's death. Her death -- like her fairy-tale wedding 16 years ago -- would at least temporarily unite the country, some said.

"She brought a lot of happiness to a lot of people," said Maria Ekinsmyth, 35, who heard the news Saturday night while on a weekend trip to Pittsburgh with friends. She has lived in Washington for two years.

"We were just terribly shocked. . . . We had planned this night on the town, but we couldn't even bring ourselves to go out," she said as she waited to sign the tribute book.

Others said they felt compelled to visit the makeshift shrine.

"I don't really know why I'm here; I just felt I had to be," said Deirdre J. Turnage, 64, of Vienna. She moved to the United States in 1952 after meeting her husband, Howard, a young Navy lieutenant stationed in Europe.

Turnage and other British visitors said they were overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support Americans have shown since Diana's death. The British Embassy thanked Americans for their support in a statement: "We are sincerely grateful for the warmth of the American response. . . . It is a great comfort to know that our grief is so widely shared in the United States."

Visitors will be able to sign the condolence book every day this week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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