Metro

From the archives | September 1, 1997

Clinton offers condolences to family of princess

A sea of people crowded around the enormous carpet of flowers deposited by mourners at the gates of Diana the Princess of Wales’ former residence in London.
DAVID BRAUCHLI/Associated press/file
A sea of people crowded around the enormous carpet of flowers deposited by mourners at the gates of Diana the Princess of Wales’ former residence in London.

This story is from the Boston Globe archives. It was orginally September 1, 1997.

EDGARTOWN -- President Clinton, appearing on a grassy field near his borrowed villa under a glaring morning sun, offered somber and simple condolences yesterday to Princess Diana’s family and the people of Britain.

Dressed in a blue blazer and tie on his way to church services, Clinton recalled the relationship that had developed between the princess and the first family over the last several years, and expressed hope that her work on charitable and international issues would live on.

“Let me say again how very sad Hillary and I are about the terrible accident that has taken the life of Princess Diana and the others who were with her,” Clinton said. “We liked her very much. We admired her for her work for children, for people with AIDS, for the cause of ending the scourge of land mines in the world and for her love for her children, William and Harry.”

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Later Clinton added, “For myself, I will always be glad that I knew the princess and always think of her in very strong and positive terms, as will Hillary, and we can only hope that her work will go forward and that everyone who can will support her two fine sons.”

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The Clintons were told about Diana’s death by aide Bruce Lindsey at about 11:45 p.m. Saturday, while they attended a party at the seaside home of Democratic contributor and Mattel Inc. executive William D. Rollnick and his wife, Nancy Ellison Rollnick. White House aides said Clinton and his wife embraced after they heard the news and left the party shortly afterward.

Clinton also sent four letters of condolence yesterday afternoon, to the Queen of England, Prince Charles, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Diana’s brother, Charles Spencer.

Island had been swept by rumors of Diana visit

Princess Diana had been the subject of widespread rumors across Martha’s Vineyard during the first week of Clinton’s vacation, as reporters and locals speculated that she was expected to come to the island and stay with Washington Post Publisher Katharine Graham. Despite one published report to the contrary, she never arrived, and had apparently never planned to.

First met Clinton at 1994 D-Day ceremony

Clinton first met the princess in 1994, during D-Day commemorations in Europe, White House officials said. Diana had last visited with Mrs. Clinton on June 18, during a whirlwind work and social tour through Washington that included a birthday party for Graham in Georgetown and a joint appearance with Red Cross president Elizabeth Dole.

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Diana met with Mrs. Clinton at the White House to discuss international policies to ban land mines, and the two had a photograph taken together, White House officials said.

During that visit, official Washington seemed to celebrate her every move. At an American Red Cross gala addressing the land mine issue, US Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina said, “I came to see the princess. After all, a man likes to look at a good-looking woman.” Senators Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Chuck Hagel of Nevada spent 40 minutes on the floor of the Senate praising Diana’s efforts on land mines.

Previous visit to island mostly kept under wraps

Princess Diana visited Martha’s Vineyard in August 1994, causing the normally unflappable locals to do a collective double take and sending British tabloid reporters and photograhers on a furious search for her whereabouts.

In an unusually secretive holiday, Diana was a guest of the Brazilian ambassador to the United States, Paulo Tarso Flecha de Lima, and his wife, Lucia, and stayed in a private home in Vineyard Haven. Her two sons were with their father in Greece at the time.

There were various sightings in Edgartown, Chilmark and Lambert’s Cove. She was photographed sailing with the family of Gerret Conover, a local real estate agent, restaurateur, and innkeeper.

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Earlier this month, one of her ball gowns was among the most sought-after items at the island’s annual Possible Dreams auction, benefiting Martha’s Vineyard Community Services.

John Connors, a Florida businessman and seasonal resident, outbid television personality Merv Griffin, paying $ 25,000 for the size 6 velvet dress.

According to Connors’s friend, Doug Garron, who collaborated with him to outbid Griffin, Connors plans to auction the dress, again to benefit charity.

Said Garron yesterday, recalling Diana’s island visit: “We’re all devastated. She came here and was very low-key about it.”

Store director finds tragedy hard to accept

The executive director of a Newbury Street store that successfully bid for three of Diana’s dresses at a New York auction in June joined others yesterday in saying the news of Diana’s death was difficult to absorb.

Bobbie Hootstein, who heads Bjoux salon, said that store owner Barbara Jordan, who vacations on the Vineyard, but couldn’t be reached for comment yesterday, aggressively bid for three of Diana’s gowns at the New York auction. For the amount of $100,000, she picked up a burgundy gown; a bottle-green, double-breasted velvet gown, and a black velvet dress with a V-neck and gathered skirt. (One of the velvet numbers donated by Jordan wound up being bought by Connors for $ 25,000 at the Possible Dreams island benefit.)

“Just today at work someone came in to ask when the dresses were going to be put into the store,” Hootstein said as she watched the events unfold on television early yesterday morning. “I have no idea what Barbara’s intentions are now.

Clinton declines comment on role of photographers

Clinton was asked by a reporter yesterday if the intrusive photographers in the news media should “back off” and give public officials and celebrities more privacy. Last week, a wire service photographer with a long-range lens captured the president and Mrs. Clinton walking along a beach on their compound in bathing suits, in a shot that some might deem invasive. Clinton declined to address the topic.

“I think it is better right now if we let this event and the people involved be honored and grieved, and then we’ll have time to think about that and maybe make a better judgment,” he said.

In Clinton’s case, the photographers are not necessarily as intrusive as the paparazzi in European capitals or Hollywood. In many cases, photographers are kept at bay by Secret Service agents. Photographers representing the wire services, news magazines, and newspapers are placed on a rotating basis in what is known as a press pool, and are assigned to follow the president whenever he appears in public. They then distribute their pictures to other news agencies.

The relationship between photographers and presidents is usually cordial, and sometimes even warm. Clinton is not known to have had any public tiffs with the photographers who follow him. President Bush used to jokingly refer to them as “photo dogs” and would often banter with them during ceremonies and appearances.

Hello, we are the Clinton family

Following his remarks, the president, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and daughter Chelsea attended Sunday services at the United Methodist Chilmark Community Church, where the congregation offered a prayer for the two sons Princess Diana left behind.

The president, Mrs. Clinton, wearing one of her wheat-colored summer hats, and Chelsea sat at the front of the small white church, which was moved from Edgartown in 1910 to its current up-island location.

The Rev. Arlene L. Bodge encouraged visitors to introduce themselves, and Clinton spoke on behalf of his family, saying they were visiting from the Foundry Methodist Church in Washington. “And we’re very glad to be here,” Clinton said. “We have had a wonderful vacation here.”

Francie Latour of the Globe staff contributed to this report.