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Diana's Tragic Death Deeply Felt in O.C.

Remembrance: Many share the sentiments of a Welsh visitor who tells a church congregation, 'She was our princess.'


It was 11 years ago, at a Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace, that Hywel Gwyn Evans discovered for himself why the world so adored Princess Diana.

As he joined other guests in line to meet her, Evans said, he was drawn by the way the princess extended her hand, reaching out to everyone who approached.

"She had a knack for being able to talk to ordinary people," said Evans, a retired headmaster of the well-known Dolgellan School in Wales. "Everyone in the whole line was laughing and smiling. I can assure you, the other line, where the prince was, was not the same."

Evans, who is visiting relatives in Seal Beach, was guest speaker Sunday at First United Methodist Church. He told the congregation that, while his Welsh compatriots have never been particularly fond of English Royalty, "Princess Diana was different."

"She gave and gave," Evans said. "She gave her love to those who had lost limbs through land mines, she visited the terminally ill, and she shook hands with lepers. She was our princess."

Across Orange County, residents expressed similar feelings about Diana and spoke of their sorrow at religious gatherings, clubs, museums and malls.

Don Houghton of Yorba Linda was up early Sunday morning, calling relatives in England for more news about Diana's death.

"It's like losing one of your own," he said.

A national tour showcasing two of the princess' gowns, scheduled to arrive in Laguna Hills this week, was canceled after Diana's death. The show had drawn about 4,000 visitors every weekend at 10 cities over the past five weeks, said Marty Von Ruden, a spokesman for the 24-hour cable-TV network Romance Classics, which sponsored the Princess Diana Gown Tour.

The dresses were recently purchased at an auction, one for $72,000 and the other, a strapless formal dinner dress that was among Diana's favorites, for $92,500, Von Ruden said.

"It doesn't make sense for us to go on with this, not now, after this, with everyone so devastated and concerned for her family and children," Von Ruden said. "Like most, we never met her. But we all knew her."

Flags flew at half-staff at the Richard Nixon Birthplace & Library in Yorba Linda, where a crowd watched an artist create a chalk portrait of the princess on a concrete walkway.

Genevieve Bennett of Anaheim worked more than two hours on the piece, which shows the princess in a soft-pink suit, smiling gently, against a backdrop of British and U.S. flags.

"I can't believe how many people have stopped to talk about her and how grateful they are that I was doing this," Bennett said. "There is so much sorrow. It's touching how the whole world can care as much about one woman as we do her. She had something. Something we identified with."

For many, the attraction was Diana's active support of a host of charities and her generous nature, the way she shook hands freely with adults and hugged children, without judgment.

At the British and Dominion Social Club in Garden Grove, a gathering spot for expatriates in Orange County, members spent the afternoon speaking of Diana's past and mourning a future without the grace she brought to the world.

Rebecca Addie, a native of Glasgow, Scotland, who now lives in Cypress, said she most admired the princess for her tremendous strength in overcoming her highly publicized adversities with poise and dignity.

"She had such a lovely manner about her," Addie said. "Maybe that is why everyone had such compassion for her, because she had such a hard time."

As a mother, Diana openly demonstrated her love for her two children, William and Harry, something rarely seen among the royals, said Pauline Dodd, a Liverpool native and current president of the social club.

"She protected them from all of the royal protocol," said Dodd, who lives in Anaheim. "She showed her affection openly for her children, which is something the queen never did."

The princess made ordinary Britons feel that they could identify with her, Dodd said, and they regarded her with pride.

"She was so ordinary," Dodd said. "It's just an awful waste of a life. She was a very, very good ambassador for Great Britain. The people loved her as one of their own rather than a royal, and she handled it very, very well."

Employees at the Garden Grove club learned of Diana's death late Saturday and tried to hide their grief and shield the guests, who were celebrating a wedding, from the shocking news.

Club officer Jerry Robert said workers nonetheless wept as they heard the radio reports, and many retreated to the bathroom to mourn in private, he said.

"I know everybody is going to miss her," Roberts said. "Everybody at the club really loved her."

Club Manager Beth Armstrong said: "We tried to keep it quiet and not tell the guests. We didn't want to ruin their night."

Eventually, though, a few guests did learn of the tragedy.

"There were tears," said Armstrong, who named her oldest daughter, Nichole Diana, after the princess. "People were very upset."

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