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Queen for a Day

Katherine Saer Duncan (Col ’11) reigns over Mardi Gras Carnival

Royalty lives on Grounds.

You may address Katherine Saer Duncan, a third-year majoring in American studies, as Queen Katherine. She reigned over New Orleans as the 2010 Mardi Gras Queen of Carnival.

“Katherine was a wonderful queen,” says Mardi Gras spokesman King Logan (who notes that King is his first name, not a title). “Her intelligence, exuberance and passion were remarkable to see.”

Duncan’s duties ranged from participating in a community run at Audubon Park (the king and queen always “win” the event) to watching the Rex parade from the royal reviewing stand.

At the grand ball—the climactic event of Mardi Gras—Duncan looked appropriately regal in a beaded golden lace Empire designer gown and a flowing cape. She wore the traditional glittering Rex queen’s crown, necklace and earrings and carried the scepter passed along with the royal title.

Katherine Saer Duncan with “Rex” (Robert Hunter Pierson Jr.) Daniel Erath/The Times-Picayune

During the ball, guests paid tribute to the king and queen. Among those granted an audience with Queen Katherine was Laura Bush, former first lady of the United States.

Duncan says this was a great year to be queen in a city still recovering from Hurricane Katrina. “The Saints had just won the Super Bowl, a victory that sparked New Orleans’ spirit of resiliency. It was palpable in the city. There was a ton of energy, a ton of pride.”

Duncan carries the royal bloodline—her grandfather, Brooke Helm Duncan, was King of Carnival in 1971. He and other family members gathered months ago in Charlottesville, ostensibly for a group photo but in reality to break the news that Katherine was to be queen. She and her younger brother, Will, were waiting impatiently for the photographer when the club’s loudspeakers began playing “If Ever I Cease to Love,” the Rex anthem. Her father, Foster Duncan (Col ’76), presented a tray of champagne glasses. Her grandfather took a glass and toasted the next Queen of Carnival.

“I was totally surprised,” Katherine Duncan recalls. “I had hoped I would be involved, but I never thought I would be queen.”

Katherine with her mom, Shaun Duncan. Ted Jackson/The Times-Picayune

Duncan lived in New Orleans until she was 9. Her father’s work took the family away from Louisiana and eventually to Cincinnati. But the Duncans’ involvement with Mardi Gras continued. Two of her aunts were queens. Other relatives were maids, dukes and pages. Her mother, Shaun Duncan (Col ’77), was a maid in the 1976 court.

“Katherine was surprised, humbled, excited,” says her mother. “It’s a wonderful honor. This year’s Mardi Gras was the most fun ever.”

Adding to Queen Katherine’s enthusiasm was the fact that her court had a Virginia flavor. Three of her eight maids were from the University—Camille Marie Robinson (Col ’11), Kingsley McQueen Beer (Com ’11) and Martha Anne Byrd (Col ’11).