No question that Queen Elizabeth’s recent funeral was, well, magisterial. But while that was in London, many Rhode Islanders might be surprised to learn that decades ago, a member of the royal family died in Newport and was buried in nearby Portsmouth with far less fanfare.
The deceased was “Pookie,” the cairn terrier adored by the duke and duchess of Windsor – the former King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson.
They were frequent visitors to Newport after Edward, uncle of the future queen, abdicated in 1936 to marry the twice-divorced Mrs. Simpson.
The Windsors were here during Easter week of 1952 when their beloved Pookie, nearly 16, crossed the rainbow bridge.
This was a grievous loss to the socialite couple, who doted on the dog, spoon-feeding her from silver bowls and hiring caregivers to attend her every whim.
Pookie earned celebrity in her own right. A 1941 story in the New York Times detailed how she won the title of “most popular dog” during a competition in the Bahamas. American moviegoers watched a Paramount newsreel showing the duke himself putting Pookie through her paces there.
Pookie was indeed a charming little thing – cairns are so cute that one of them played Toto, Judy Garland’s film dog in The Wizard of Oz.
Pookie was well known to the patrician Newport crowd.
In his 2013 book on the history of the Newport County Club, Frederick Waterman quoted a former caddie as remembering the 5-foot-7-inch duke as “the little man with the big golf bag who gave a measly dime tip and often brought his dog Pookie onto the course, then handed the leash to his caddie…Pookie is planted in a bow-wow cemetery in Portsmouth.”
The golf course wasn’t the only place where the duke’s reputation suffered. His visit with Wallis to Germany in 1937, where they hobnobbed with Nazi leaders including Hitler (in what the duke insisted was for peaceful purposes) fanned opinion that he and his wife were Nazi sympathizers.
According to Portsmouth historian and author Frank Grzyb, on their Newport visits the Windsors stayed at the estates of the wealthy, “taking in luncheons, teas, and dinners, and later attending late-night parties with their high-society friends.”
Grzyb (he pronounces it Gribb), an Army combat veteran who earned the Bronze Star and Purple Heart in Vietnam, told me the pet cemetery property on Wapping Road has changed hands and usages several times over the decades and its headstones have vanished, so the gravesites are unrecognizable today.
But years ago when the markers existed, he took photos and later documented Pookie’s local connection for the website Small State/Big History.
Grzyb wrote that Pookie “had lived a carefree life reminiscent of a well-loved but spoiled adolescent.”
The Windsors’ final veneration of Pookie was cremation and burial near a 19th-Century stone wall in the rural cemetery.
Her gravestone read:
LITTLE FRIEND OF
EDWARD AND WALLIS
DUKE AND DUCHESS
AUGUST 16TH, 1936
APRIL 12TH, 1952
Grzyb observed that the stone was “surprisingly no more elaborate than others in the cemetery, a far cry from her owners’ lavish lifestyle.”
Still, Pookie’s low-key sendoff seems more in keeping with Rhode Island than would ruffles and flourishes.
As further epitaph, Grzyb wrote in his account of the tiny dog’s life: “When all is said and done, there remains one truism: Pookie lived a canine’s life of luxury… one befitting a queen.”
Gerry Goldstein (firstname.lastname@example.org), a frequent contributor, is a retired Providence Journal editor and columnist.