Published Wednesday, Sept. 3, 1997
Valley resident visiting London in time of tragedy
By Julie Hannon
Herald Staff Writer
LONDON _ Like many other Americans, Hermitage resident Mary Stephenson awoke Sunday morning to the news that Princess Diana had died.
But unlike other city residents, Ms. Stephenson awoke in a small flat nestled in the oldest part of London. So rather than switching on the television for the latest report, the 39-year-old and her two cousins from Washington, D.C., joined thousands of Brits in the streets of a mourning nation.
``Everyone was in a state of shock. You just felt so awful. We were among the first throng of people at Kensington Palace,'' said Ms. Stephenson, inside sales coordinator for The Herald.
``I'm sure you've seen pictures of the number of flowers people brought _ it's just unbelievable. What has impressed me the most is how orderly and respectful the people have been. People are openly weeping but it's not total hysteria.
``Most of the talk is focused around the children _ what a shame it is to lose such a wonderful mother. She is definitely an idolized woman; you see it everywhere. Even many of the department stores she frequented closed their doors immediately.''
Ms. Stephenson, who took time out from her vacation to call home, said the media _ blamed for the tragedy by many of the Britons _ were camped at a surprisingly distant location from the palace.
``At Kensington, you're free to walk around, yet they stayed at the second gate. I don't know if that's where they were told to stay or not, but I was surprised,'' she said. ``I approached an anchorman who I thought was American to ask him about it, but he turned out to be German.
``I've tried to listen to people's conversations and for the most part, their concern is again with the kids, but there is talk about the media's role.''
As the details of the accident have unfolded, Ms. Stephenson said the most frustrating part of her trip has been being physically close to the story but being unable to get details as they unfold because the flat has no source of outside communication.
``I stayed up at night listening to reports over the Walkman radio I brought with me because we had no access to a TV,'' said Ms. Stephenson. ``On the day it happened, we must have gone to 50 newsstands looking for a paper but they were all sold out. Papers come out every hour here and we still couldn't get our hands on one. Then, The Evening Standard printed thousands of complimentary issues and we were able to get one.''
Her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Francis Stephenson, also of Hermitage, said Ms. Stephenson called them Sunday after she returned from the palace.
``She was weepy when she called. It's an emotional part of history even for Americans,'' her mother said.
Ms. Stephenson said she and her cousins made a second trip to the palace and are thinking about visiting St. James Palace, where Diana's body is lying in the Chapel Royal, to sign one of four books of condolences.
``We're going to wait and see. The wait is over six hours long and people are waiting in line overnight. I would like to make it, though,'' she said.
The mood of the people has slightly changed since reports that Diana's driver was drunk at the time of the accident, Ms. Stephenson said.
``That was big news. People just can't seem to believe that it could happen.''
Ms. Stephenson said her plane ticket home is for early Saturday, so she will be unable to attend the funeral at Westminster Abbey.
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Updated Sept. 3, 1997
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