Queen Elizabeth waves from the Rotunda steps to well-wishers gathered on the Lawn. Photo by Ed Roseberry

In 1976, Queen Elizabeth II visited several cities in the United States to commemorate the nation’s bicentennial. On July 10, she toured Monticello and the Academical Village, where an estimated 18,000 people watched her stroll down the Lawn. Virginia Gov. Mills E. Godwin hosted a luncheon for the queen in the Dome Room of the Rotunda. A potentially uncomfortable moment for the queen was averted by professor Ray Bice and Alexander “Sandy” Gilliam Jr. (Col ’55), former secretary to the Rector and Visitors, and current University history and protocol officer. Before the event, Gilliam, who chaired the planning committee, walked the queen’s route at the same time of day she would. As he reached the top of the stairs to the Dome Room, he discovered “the sun would hit the queen right in her eyes and she wouldn’t be able to see anything,” said Gilliam.

President Gerald Ford and Queen Elizabeth dance at the White House. Courtesy of Gerald R. Ford LIbrary. Photo by Ricardo Thomas.
Bice came up with an ingenious solution. Accessing the Rotunda roof through a trap door, Bice glued white butcher paper to the oculus to block the sunlight. Because he used water-soluble glue, rain eventually washed the paper away. “That was just like Ray, to come up with a [solution] like that,” Gilliam said.

Unfortunately, the same attention to detail was not paid during the queen’s visit to Washington, D.C., a week later when an infamous gaffe occurred. Just as President Gerald Ford asked the queen to dance during a White House dinner, the U.S. Marine Band launched into the song “The Lady Is a Tramp.”