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PRINCESS DIANA: 1961-1997

5,000 Miles Away, Bereft in L.A.

Respects: Throngs line up to record condolences. They never met Diana, but they miss her.

September 03, 1997|CARLA HALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Beverly Hills waiter was there all night. A few mourners stood in the hot sun on crutches. People brought their mothers and their children and scraps of paper on which they had scribbled the thoughts they wanted to express in the black-leather-bound book with engraved gold letters on the front that read simply, Condolence Book.

Dear Beautiful Princess,

I came here today to thank you for your example. You did good works when you didn't have to. And I hope that we will all carry on your example. You will always be young, beautiful and loved. . . .

Brian Ross punctuated his comments by drawing a little heart.

"I've been trying to rationalize it," Ross, 27, a soon-to-be lawyer who just took the bar exam, said as he headed out of the Westside office building that houses the British Consulate. "I don't understand why I'm so upset. But there are certain people who touch you. I felt that way when John Lennon died. Every Dec. 8, I think of him. I've had distant relatives die and I didn't feel this affected by it."

Hundreds like him lined up Tuesday on Wilshire Boulevard in West L.A., waiting for as long as four hours to express their thoughts about Diana, princess of Wales, in one of the consulate's books. The signing of the books--available to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Friday--mirrors a ritual now going on in London, in Washington and in other British consular offices across the United States.

Debra Entine came at 9:15 a.m. and waited until she reached the book at 11. Suffering from multiple sclerosis, she walked on forearm crutches. "I thought this was the last thing I could do for her," she said.

She'd come to put flowers outside the consulate Monday, but her heart still ached, so she came again Tuesday to put the ache into words.

The line wound from the cool marble interior of the consulate's office building to the front court outside the building and then south for half the block.

An hour after the first book was set out Tuesday morning, consular officials put out a second that could be signed simultaneously, hoping that would speed up the line.

But people had too much they wanted to say. They wrote reams. One person taped a letter to a page of the book. The line snaked. No one hurried the writers. Those in line waited a respectful five feet behind signers as they bent over books and intently penned their carefully chosen words. At midday, in another attempt to reduce the wait, consular officials added two more books.

But still the pace was too fatiguing for some. Late in the afternoon, a 74-year-old Brentwood woman, who had waited three hot hours in line outside, collapsed and was taken to hospital.

The condolences were free-form. Some people wrote about Diana. More wrote directly to her. They addressed her like a relative. People signed the names of their entire families.

Always be in our hearts. May you rest in peace. Myra, Jean, Sharon and Nancy

"I always do that," said Nancy Campos. "Every time I go to a special function, I always include my sisters' names."

Dearest Princess,

I am here today wearing my red ribbon. I have been so very proud of you and your compassion for me and my brothers and sisters in the struggle against AIDS. You will be so missed. I am so very sorry. . . .

Joel Boyd

"Considering that she jumped in so early on the AIDS epidemic when government officials weren't paying attention or were being afraid of something they knew nothing about, she's a hero," said Boyd, a 38-year-old former store manager who was diagnosed with acquired immune deficiency syndrome five years ago.

"I saw the wedding; I saw the births of her sons--it's like I know her," said Cindi Moeller, 44, who drove in from Canyon Country. "I just had to be here today."

In tow was her 13-year-old daughter, Jennifer, with a slightly different take on her role at the scene. "I have to write to William; he's cute," she said with a mischievous smile.

Even as many shed tears, some chastised themselves for this emotion over someone they had never met.

"She was an angel; I was so disillusioned with the human race. All the good people keep dying," Sandra Bjork, 46, said as her eyes started to brim. "I feel so silly."

No, said Keva DiLorenzo, a 53-year-old Englishwoman, it wasn't silly.

"This is a place where you can put your feelings--your sorrow, your thoughts, feelings you don't even know you have," mused DiLorenzo, who lives in Los Angeles. "She made it possible. She was so approachable. So we can approach her now. This is sort of a funeral. This has made it possible for everyone to go to a funeral."

Times correspondent Joseph Hanania contributed to this report.

More on Tragedy

* PUTTING CELEBRITY TO USE: Princess Diana turned the attention focused on her to a cause worthy of attention. A5

* A HUNGRY PUBLIC: Demand for material on Diana has surged, but publishers and others are moving cautiously. D1

* PRINCES' GRIEF: Princes William and Harry have suffered the same staggering loss as any child whose parent dies without warning, grief experts say. E1

* A HAUNTING STORY: The death of Diana is a story that continues to haunt, says Robin Abcarian. E1

* LETTERS TO THE TIMES: B6

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