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The underrated feminist legacy of Queen Elizabeth

Mika Brzezinski pays tribute to the longest-reigning woman in history.
Image: Queen Elizabeth II talking to children in the crowd assembled to greet her.
Queen Elizabeth II talking to well wishers during her silver jubilee year celebrations on June 03, 1977 in in Camberwell, England.Graham Wiltshire / Getty Images file

It's the end of an era — an era of grace, influence, regal confidence, and extraordinary inspiration.

During a majestic state funeral at Westminster Abby on Monday, the world said goodbye to Queen Elizabeth II — the longest-reigning woman in history.

As I’ve been covering this historic event in London, I keep returning to this: Queen Elizabeth knew her value. She inspired untold women in politics and leadership. She was truly a woman before her time.

Queen Elizabeth broke so many glass ceilings. She became queen at 25. And prior to that, she was a mechanic in the British Army during World War II, a job that was unthinkable for a British woman, let alone a monarch. And while the United States has yet to have a single, female president, Great Britain has had three female prime ministers — all during Queen Elizabeth’s reign.

Amid the world’s mixed feelings of grief, pride, and, yes, ambivalent reaction to the imperial aspects of her legacy, there is no denying Queen Elizabeth had tremendous influence for an almost unthinkable 70 years. At Know Your Value, we often celebrate women who are stepping into their power after the age of 50. Queen Elizabeth is emblematic of the truth that success has no age limit.

Queen Elizabeth also knew the value of her words. Early in her reign, she declared that her whole life would be dedicated to serving the nation and the Commonwealth. The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby put it perfectly at her funeral on Monday, that “rarely has such a promise been so well kept.”

As we hosted special coverage of the funeral, Joe Scarborough, Willie Geist and I were struck by how the queen, who had inherited an overwhelmingly white British country and an empire in some decline, oversaw the transformation of the commonwealth over her 70-year reign into a vibrant, multicultural, economically powerful society. Britain has gone from enduring decades of humiliation, the devaluing of the pound, and blackouts throughout the 1970s to thriving and becoming one of the most powerful economies in the world. Remarkable.

There is another unmistakable sign of her influence over her citizens. The people of London have been remarkably kind and patient to visitors, as millions descended upon their city.

From left to right: Katty Kay, Willie Geist, Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough on the set of "Morning Joe" in London on Monday.
From left to right: Katty Kay, Willie Geist, Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough on the set of "Morning Joe" in London on Monday.Taylor Dieng

Despite it being one of the largest royal events since the funeral of Queen Victoria, from what I have observed, people have been on their best behavior, showing a civility and reverence that is usually missing at big events. Police officers who lined the streets were incredibly patient and talking to tourists about their experiences with Queen Elizabeth.

I am honored to be here to see this once-in-a-lifetime event on such a grand scale. Of course, there was a palpable sense of sadness in the air when we sat down on the set of “Morning Joe” to start our live coverage at 5 a.m. EST. Yet, after the service, as the queen’s coffin passed by the crowds, people would burst out into applause in admiration for all Queen Elizabeth had done. Just as sad as the day began, it ended with joy and celebration of a life well lived.