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Princess Margaret visits Arizona

Rev. George Ferguson, the founding Rector of St. Philip’s In The Hills greets Princess Margaret.

Rev. George Ferguson, the founding Rector of St. Philip’s In The Hills greets Princess Margaret.

When Tucsonan Lewis W. Douglas was appointed ambassador to the Court of St. James in 1947, his daughter Sharman left Vassar to accompany her parents to England and became a close friend of Princess Margaret.

Douglas, a wealthy banker and Arizona rancher, served as an Arizona congressman, budget director for Franklin D. Roosevelt and as ambassador to the United Kingdom from 1947 until 1950. His wife Peggy Zinsser Douglas helped raise millions of dollars for the arts and other charitable causes during her 60 years of volunteer work. Sharman’s cousin Josalee Douglas was the first wife of Count Jean-Francis de Chambrun, who later married Countess Spencer, the stepmother of Diana, Princess of Wales. At a party in 1949, which Sharman hosted, Margaret’s sister Princess Elizabeth, arrived dressed as an Edwardian parlor maid, Prince Philip as a waiter and Princess Margaret as a can-can girl, replete with lace panties and black stockings.

Princess Margaret and her husband Lord Snowdon visited the American West in 1965. Their tour began with royal entourage arrival at Page in two jet planes. Page residents were concerned that the royal couple might be disappointed. People brought in expensive silver tea sets, a special dining room table and a display of Indian arrowheads. Dinner included salad, chicken soup, baked potato, steak and ice cream for dessert. Lord Snowdon drank bourbon; the princess stuck with her favorite gin and tonic.

Concern for the royal opinion disappeared when it became obvious that no one knew who was going to pay for most the royals’ trip or if local merchants and service providers would be paid at all. Canyon Tours picked up the tab for the 22 rooms at the Lake Powell Motel, but there were also outstanding bills for shopping trips for expensive leather boots, food and beverage bills and the bill for the 34-foot boat which ferried them along Lake Powell. A fleet of local automobiles and volunteer drivers took the royal couple and the Douglases from place to place. There was even a fake island erected in the lake which was supposed to represent Hawaii with hula dancers, fake flowers and Hawaiian music.

Lewis Douglas was later billed for a small part of the five-day tour. All-in-all, however, the group’s 24-hour stay cost more than most of the Page residents made in a year.

Princess Margaret, Lord Snowdon and the Douglases returned to Tucson where they stayed at Douglas ranch. Margaret tentatively patted the 125-pound Hereford calf which Douglas brought over for her inspection. On Sunday, Princess Margaret, wearing a yellow silk dress, accompanied by the Douglases, Lord Snowdon, and Lady Elizabeth Cavendish, her lady in waiting, attended communion services at St. Philip’s In The Hills conducted by Rev. George Fergusson. It was described as a small Episcopal church with Mexican silver sconces on white stucco walls, short Corinthian pillars and an arched window overlooking the desert.

Princess Margaret passed away on Feb. 9, 2002 at the age of 71, after suffering a massive stroke. Her life plagued by scandal and gossip, she requested that she be cremated and her ashes placed in the tomb of her parents. Sharman Douglas died of bone cancer at New York Hospital Feb. 3, 1996.

Later, Sir Patrick Dean, ambassador to the United States, wrote a report which hinted strongly at some of the questionable activities during the private part of the tour over which he had little or no control.

Dean was the British ambassador to the United States. He said of the royal couple: “It was a mistake that so much of their time was spent with and organized by Miss Sharman Douglas, though she did her best, after her own fashion, to make sure the visitors had a gay and amusing time.”

Princess Margaret was barred by British diplomats from making an official visit to America in the early 1970s because of the wild behavior of her entourage during the 1965 visit.

— Jane Eppinga. Sources: New York Times, Tucson Citizen. Photo courtesy of St. Philip’s In The Hills.

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