Queen Elizabeth II set a wonderful example about the importance of doing small things with great love – Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP

I only met the Queen on one occasion. It was at the state opening of the Scottish Parliament in October last year and it started badly.

We were still in the grip of Covid and were told that under no circumstances were we to breach Her Majesty’s social distance. Imagine my horror then, when as she reached my place in the line she extended her arm to shake my hand. I was so flustered I nearly batted it away.

She soon put me at ease and showed an immediate and connected interest in my life and background. I’ll never forget that brief exchange.

We do not choose the life into which we are born, and seldom do we shape events that define our times. We can only hope to move through this world with humility and close regard for those around us. To conduct ourselves in the time that we are given with compassion, kindness and grace.

The life of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is a towering example of those qualities manifest in a single human being.

She always kept a special place for Scotland in her heart, as she in turn found ample room in ours. Her passing leaves a profound absence across our family of nations and these islands are united in our grief.

Her Majesty came of age in the crucible of war, a period of gravest danger for our country. It fostered in her a deep commitment to reconciliation, to peace and a common understanding among nations, so evident in her devotion to the Commonwealth.

It’s why she told the listening world from Cape Town on the occasion of her 21st birthday that, while she was 6,000 miles from the country of her birth, she was never far from home. And so the grief we feel today is shared across the world.

The late Queen Elizabeth II pictured at Windsor Castle in April 28 (Picture: Dominic Lipinski/WPA pool/Getty Images)

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From the Blitz to the pandemic, through times of tempest and times of calm, sustained as always by the Duke of Edinburgh, her beloved strength and stay, she was the embodiment of constancy and forbearance in the face of remarkable change.

She sat with presidents and hospital patients; key workers and veterans; she leapt from helicopters and dined with bears. She earned the widespread affection that has been so visible in these days of mourning.

In one Christmas broadcast, Her Majesty leant into the words of another when she said: “Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”

It reminded me of a story about when she had lunch with a trauma surgeon who had returned from Aleppo. She asked him many questions about his time in the war. The unexpected compassion Her Majesty showed to the surgeon overwhelmed him and he was moved to tears.

Noticing his distress, she broke off from her line of questioning and signalled to a footman, who brought over a silver box filled with biscuits. “These are for the dogs,” she said and then invited him to spend the next half hour quietly feeding the corgis. “Sometimes this is just easier than talking,” she said.

Small things with great love. The measure of her example inspired so many of us to fulfil the promise of those words.

Alex Cole-Hamilton is Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western