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Dame Of The British Empire Talks

With our American obsession with all things English, e.g. Masterpiece Theatre, Downtown Abbey, Mystery!, hearing Victoria Crosby talk is “a visit to the home country.” She recently came to share information about the Daughters of the British Empire (DBE) and read from her book of poems dedicated to the group and their work: Poetic Vic, Britcentric, at the Oyster Bay Historical Society’s Koenig Center.

The DBE, a not-for-profit group, supports homes for the English aged in four states where there is a local chapter. They also keep those related to Britain up to date on the world of the Windsors. They each also support their local charities.

Hearing the poems read with Crosby’s lilting speech gives a whole different meaning to the work. A listener asked about her accent and she answered that on a visit home to Cheshire, England, “They said, ‘You have lost your brogue.’ They say I sound like an American.”

Crosby came to America as a teenager, with the goal of going to Graceland, at the same time The Beatles were arriving at these shores to seek their fortune. “That was the American dream for me. We both achieved our goals,” she said.

Crosby was the DBE’s New York State President and is the Regent of the DBE Long Island Westminster Abbey Chapter. She is the DBE Poet Laureate, the Poet Laureate of Glen Cove since 1994, a teacher, has given piano and violin lessons, is a journalist, and Vice President of the North Shore Historical Society. In 2013 she was honored by the OBHS as an advocate for historic preservation.

In a short slide show she showed the emblem of the DBE with the Union Jack in the center and a British crown on top that is used on the DBE pin. Crosby said after her stint as NYS DBE President, she had to give back the ruby, sapphire and diamond pin that goes with that national designation. She has a replica pin, although, she added, she could buy one with real gems if she so desired.

The local chapter of the DBE began in 1909. She attended their national convention last year, which was held in NYC. The group is made up of women of British or Commonwealth heritage, living in America, who raise funds to help support senior homes for elderly Britishers in Texas, Chicago, California and New York.

In New York State that means the Victoria Home in Ossining, overlooking the Hudson River. Crosby explained that it is populated by Brits who were nannies, servants or who have fallen on hard times. Nowadays the home gets help from Medicaid and is no longer just for Brits, although the majority of residents are Brits, said Crosby.

The house has beamed ceilings and of course, English gardens, and keeping up with the times, is handicapped access. Croquet is their game of choice.

Royal Events

The DBE gives members a chance to keep up with things British. Last year as Queen Elizabeth celebrated her Diamond Jubilee, Beefeater Chris Martin of the tower of London spoke at a DBE luncheon at the Cosmopolitan Club in Manhattan.

The slide showed chapter events such as luncheons at the Tavern on the Green: all wearing hats. She attended a garden party where she met Lady Ann Collins, wife of the NY Counsel General. The party was held at the British Memorial Garden at Hanover Square in lower Manhattan, opposite India House. It honors the 67 British victims of the World Trade Center attacks.

Before, Hanover Square Park was a 1-acre triangle of land. Now it is an oasis of trees, plants, benches and curving paths. It was created with materials from the United Kingdom: Scotland and Wales provided stone; English stone benches were made in Northern Ireland.

The garden, a gift to the people of New York, opened in 2008. It is also a symbol of the friendship between the U.S. and Britain.

Crosby said there are many Queen Elizabeth II Peace Gardens in the world, including one on the border of the U.S. and Canada. They are in memory of people who have died to promote peace.

The Hanover Square garden was funded by the St. George’s Society, the DBE and corporate sponsors to honor “those who died that we will never forget,” she said.

On July 4, more than 100 DBE members met for a baby shower for Prince George Alex Louis, born July 1, 2013. The blue and pink items will be donated to a charity, possibly the Boys & Girls Club, she said at the talk. “It will go to needy moms,” she added.

Crosby recently interviewed Judith Lieber, the famous designer of jeweled handbags, in her home on the east end of Long Island. If you have the chance to sit beside Crosby at a party, you will be delighted with her stories. She is the proud mother of four sons, one of which, Jason, is living in California and has played with the Grateful Dead and Van Morrison.

Crosby brought along several DBE items for sale, including a silk scarf designed with a nod to the British Union. It features the English Rose, Shamrock of Ireland, the Thistle of Scotland and Daffodil of Wales.  

She carried a bag decorated with the British flag which she explained combines the flag of St. George: white with red cross for England and Wales; crossed with the white “X” cross of St. Andrew for Scotland; and the red “X” cross of St. Patrick to represent Ireland. It is also called the Union Jack, keeping with that English theme.

Crosby commented that she has a certain nostalgia for Britain, and said here she can display her collection of Royal memorabilia, which she could not do [and not be teased] if living in England. She has Coronation mugs.

Upcoming Events

The Oyster Bay Historical Society is hosting the opening of their new exhibit at the Koenig Center, 20 Summit Street, with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. on Jan. 31. Refreshments served. “Snow Day In Oyster Bay” will display items from their collection related to winter. That includes bobsleds, skates and costumes on loan from Monica Randall. The exhibit runs through March 23.

Incidentally, now through Feb. 15, the NSHM at 140 Glen Street, Glen Cove is displaying Victorian-style winter gowns from the collection of Monica Randall, which were worn by prominent ladies of the Gold Coast in the early 20th Century.

The NSHM is hosting a lecture on Feb. 12, as Antonia Petrash talks on the Women’s Suffrage Movement on the North Shore. The NSHM is open on Wednesdays from 2 to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is free to members; adults, $5; seniors, $4; teens $4; children ages 12 and under, free. For information call 516-801-1191. For information about the OBHS call 516-922-7572.