Susan of the Albanians
Her Majesty Queen Susan of the Albanians, daughter of Alan Robert Cullen-Ward and Phyllis Dorothea Murray Prior.
Queen Susan was born in Waverley, New South Wales, Sydney Australia, on the 28th of January 1941. She died 17th of July 2004, at the age of 63, in Vishnje village, near Tirana.
Susan Cullen-Ward was a fifth generation Australian. The Cullen-Ward's were large landowners in Queensland. When they emigrated, they brought with them some of the first horses from Ireland.
Susan was a great-granddaughter of the Queensland politician Thomas Lodge Murray- Prior (1819-1892) and a descendant of Edward I of England and first wife Eleanor of Castile.
Her cousin, Andrew Barton Paterson, wrote the poem "The Man from Snowy River".
Susan was brought up on a ten thousand hectare sheep farm in New South Wales. She initially began school at the Ladies Presbyterian College in Orange, where she was head prefect. She then attended University at the Academy of Arts in Sydney, where she studied art, history and architecture, until finally specializing in architecture.
Thereafter she returned to the Ladies Presbyterian College, but this time as an arts teacher. She later headed an interior design company in Sydney.
Susan was also extremely interested in Egyptology and was offered a full scholarship to pursue her studies at the Sorbone University in France. This enabled her to travel to Europe where, for the first time, she met His Majesty King Leka I of the Albanians.
The King Leka invited the then Susan Cullen-Ward to Spain, where she studied tourism. In 1974 they were engaged, and one year later she married and took the title Her Majesty Queen Susan of the Albanians.
Queen Susan's life in the Royal Family was blessed by a perfect role model, that being The Queen Mother, Her Majesty Queen Geraldine. When asked about Queen Geraldine she replied, "a truly unique figure with total love for the Albanian people and truly brave in standing beside King Ahmed Zogu. She gave her son an exemplary education and is highly respected throughout the world".
Queen Susan maintained contact with heads of state and other Royals. She also took part in assisting the King with royal activities both as an advisor and valued partner. She was also active in the media and visited Albanian communities.
Her strength showed in 1997 when King Leka returned to Albania and she had to take over all the political activities of the Royal Court outside the country. During the King's absence in Albania, her phone calls gave him love and strength always reminding him "we are with you, we are well, my love to the Albanians". Her messages were from the heart and always with King Zog’s motto, “the nation above all” and the vows of HM. Queen Geraldine "duty and love".
The foreign media viewed Queen Susan as an honest and warm person with the smile of a proud lady. In the Spanish magazine “Ola”, she stated that her modest life has never vanquished and her sovereign commitment has strengthened her and her pride, enabling her to deal with all situations.
Queen Susan's happiest moment was when her son, Prince Leka II, was born at 13h44, Friday the 26th of March 1982.
Queen Susan's pride and joy was her foundation in the United States of America, The Queen Susan Cultural Foundation, which was designed to assist Albanians through medical aid and education. She travelled to countries such as Australia, Canada, Jordan, France and Belgium visiting hospitals and thereby gaining experience in finding new methods to assist the Albanian people.
Diagnosed with lung cancer, and after intensive specialized care in Tirana, Her Majesty Queen Susan passed away due to heart failure on the 17th of June, 2004. Leaders from Albania, Kosova and Macedonia paid their final respects, as did thousands of mourners.
Queen Susan is buried beside her beloved King Leka I and Queen Geraldine at the Royal Mausoleum.
For those who knew her, they will always remember her charm, strength, good spirit and the love she gave to all those around her. May God Bless Her Soul!
My first contact with Her Majesty, Queen Susan of the Albanians, was related to the opening of a fundraising art exhibition for the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies of which she was an international patron during her lifetime. Before our first meeting I had polished up on royal protocol and memorized my formal request, fearing that if I said or did anything wrong that I might jeopardize her acceptance of the invitation.
At the appointed hour I arrived at the royal compound outside Johannesburg and, on being presented to Her Majesty, did everything the book required one to do in the presence of Royalty. But, while I was still getting into position to make a slight bow, she took me by the hand and said, “Please, relax - and call me Susan.”
The next moment I found myself in a chair pulled up right next to hers and we were talking about the arts, the variations of artistic expressions which fascinated her and about which she was incredibly knowledgeable. I never got a chance to deliver that memorized speech which was so well prepared that I can remember it, verbatim, to this day! It wasn’t necessary: Susan was just another human being with great warmth and a deep compassion for this world and its people. She did not need any fancy words to convince her to assist with a project designed to alleviate the suffering of others.
Later in the afternoon His Majesty, King Leka, joined our meeting. I am considered a tall man by anyone’s standards but, on this occasion, I felt myself very small indeed. Not only did this man tower above me, his presence was overwhelmingly majestic and powerful and made me feel quite insignificant! And yet, within a few minutes, I felt totally comfortable with him too. Before I knew what I was doing I was telling him my life story!
A while later a young lad, who turned out to be much younger than his height indicated, also joined our gathering. I was introduced to a very upright 4-year old Crown Prince Leki who, very formally, held out his hand and said: “I am honored to meet you!” In that moment, I felt myself very worthy and very welcome: My association of almost two decades with The King, The Queen and the Crown Prince had begun. Later on it included the Queen Mother, Queen Geraldine and the Countess Apponyi, but it was my friendship with the core family, and Susan in particular, that endured for almost two decades now.
Queen Susan did a splendid job of opening that exhibition. Every important person and celebrity had been invited and, surprisingly, all had turned out for the occasion – after all, this was the Queen’s first and only official public appearance during her entire stay in South Africa!
The Queen arrived in great style, elegantly attired and she proceeded to focus with sincere interest on each person presented to her. When it came time for the speech she regally walked up to the microphone, donned her reading glasses and, without looking at the notes in her hand, faultlessly addressed each of the many dignitaries by title and name. She then looked down at her notes and started: “My husband and I …………”, - at that point she paused, looked at the very quiet audience in front of her and said: “Now Ladies and Gentlemen, if you expected that, you deserved it!”
Five hundred guests broke out in spontaneous laughter and applauded her warmly. She had broken through to that crowd with her very first words and, knowing she had each guest in the palm of her hand, she then proceeded to deliver an impassioned plea for the plight of the destitute. From time to time during that brilliant speech she glanced at her notes. But throughout, her sincerity, her humanness and her care and concern for all living things rung in every one of her carefully chosen words.
Within an hour after that opening speech, all of the works of art had sold and we had raised a record amount of money for the Red Cross. On leaving the function, I thanked her for her stunning contribution and asked her for a copy of the speech. She gave me that wicked smile that later in our friendship I became so accustomed to and handed me her neatly folded notes. As the car drew away from the curbside I opened the wad of papers: each page was perfectly blank.
It was not until two years ago - when I interviewed the Queen Mother Geraldine – that I understood how Queen Susan managed to deliver that unwritten speech so brilliantly and with such compassion. The Queen mother insisted that she wanted to talk about Susan and also made me promise that I would include her thoughts on her daughter-in-law in the article that followed. More than an hour passed during which Geraldine shared with me her highest regard for Susan’s courage through the many years of personal poverty and suffering that the family had endured during their exile. She told me about their personal friendship and the bond that could only have developed between two women who shared incredible grief and many a hardship for the love of their chosen husbands and their respective destinies. She praised Susan for her total dedication to a country where she had never set foot and for helping in every which way possible to alleviate the suffering of its people, the vast majority of whom she had never met.
And, here I should like to quote the late Queen Geraldine directly: “It is Susani and not I who has had the hardest life. But, she is a strong woman with great character and the hardships she had to endure since the seventies had given her her resilience and her compassion. Those who suffer a lot themselves are the ones who care the most for others."
Geraldine continued: “When they first arrived in Africa there were many hardships. Once they had settled, they were far away from everything and everyone and, of necessity, King Leka started to travel on his own, visiting the many exiled Albanian communities all over the world and tending to the affairs of those trapped under the communist regime. The Queen was left in charge of all of the domestic arrangements and also the meager finances and piles of bills. All these years Susan had to be driven around in a battered old Mercedes that sometimes wouldn’t even start up!” Queen Geraldine at that point threw her hands in the air in a gesture of desperation.
And, indeed, Queen Susan had endured a most lonely existence during their stay in Africa. Two years after their arrival in Johannesburg, Crown Prince Leka was born. For her and her son there were to be no royal luxuries − available funds were reserved for the bare necessities. During the 25 years she spent living in almost total isolation on the outskirts of Johannesburg, she did make a few good friends, people that she could trust and feel comfortable with. Occasionally, and when the family could barely afford it, she organized a joyous get-together of friends at the compound. And then, there were the expeditions to Johannesburg’s art galleries – especially when her friend Queen Geraldine came to stay permanently - and, on the odd occasion, an outing to a concert, ballet or opera. For the rest of the time she devoted herself entirely to working in support of the many international projects aimed at lessening the suffering of the Albanian people.
When on that October day in Biarritz in 1975, she tied herself in marriage to her King she also fully committed herself to serving not only him but also serving his country and his people for the rest of her life. She truly, throughout all of her married life, was not only wife to King Leka, but at all times also Susani, Queen of the Albanians. And as Queen she served her country well and bore the King and his people an heir whom she brought up not only to be a man and a king but also to be one the finest and compassionate of human beings I have the privilege to know. That - in the end and in my opinion - was her greatest gift to Leka and the people of Albania.
I had been speaking to Susan almost every week since the family’s return to Albania. She was always so enthusiastic about her country and her people and the things that she planned to do to make this world a better place for all. In one of our conversations she told me that she for the first time have come to understand what Queen Geraldine had meant when in that last interview with me she said: “This world has become too small and there are too many people. And all are human beings and each has a soul. Too often we forget this fact. What a world!”
Earlier this year she confided in me and told me about her very serious illness. In our many telephone conversations that followed I shared with her the discomfort of the treatments but she always remained so very positive and never once mentioned the possibility of death. She remained full of the joys of life and assured me that she was getting better by the day. She even solemnly promised me that her hair would have grown back by the time of my planned visit in September!
I last spoke to her on Thursday when she called to wish me well for an operation I had to undergo on Friday morning. Most of the call centered on discussing arrangements for my impending visit. Just before she said goodbye she made me promise I would send an sms as soon as I came round from the anesthetic. She also said that she would call on Saturday evening when I was out of hospital so that we could make final arrangements for my travels.
On Friday, once I had regained full consciousness, I sent her the following text message: "Your Majesty, Patient awake - patient very much alive - patient extremely difficult. Please remove immediately to Albania. Matron." She replied to this message with her customary wit: "Good for Him - Sorry for You – Learjet Grounded! S”
On Saturday evening my cell phone remained eerily silent during the hour of the expected call. I will never forget the moment when it eventually started to ring and I answered. Ever since I first met him, "Young Bear" never ever referred to himself as "Prince" - and certainly not in any of our private conversations. I recognized his voice but also heard a strange flat pitch when I answered the phone and he asked: "Is that Mixael de Kock?" I said: "Yes?" – and immediately knew that something was very wrong when he flatly continued: "This is Crown Prince Leka of the Albanians. My father, the King, asked me to call you with some rather sad news."
Susani, Queen of the Albanians, had died unexpectedly. Susan, my friend, was dead.
I was distraught in the extreme. The night of their departure from Johannesburg in June 2002 I very well knew that I would never again meet with Geraldine the Queen Mother. She was so frail and so ill and so was her sister. But, I never could have known then that it was to be the very last time that I held my dear friend Susan to my breast.
She was one of the truest friends that I had ever known and, she was also a friend to my beloved parents and all of my other friends that she met over the years. Some of them, such as the South African artist Hannatjie van der Wat, became very close to her and they, in turn, shared many a confidence. My father, my nieces - Nicolette and Danielle - and all of my friends that ever met and knew and loved her, join me in this tribute today.
The Canadian painter, Leif Ostlund, who visited me some years ago and whom had the privilege of spending an evening with the Royal family during his stay, yesterday wrote me the following message on learning of Her Majesty’s death:
“Since your devastating news of this morning I have been writing. Five hours later I have but bundles of words and ideas, none of which could ever live up to the beauty and dignity of such a lady. Your introducing me to Queen Susani at that time in my life left an impression that has helped to define and shape my character in a most a positive way. Her intelligence and keen observations I shall never forget. My feet did not touch the floor as she so graciously escorted me about her living quarters and even now I can feel the smiles and hear the laughter that she drew from me with so little effort. I treasure that evening.”
There is little else that I can add to this tribute other than remembering how Susan, often accompanied by the King, never missed any of the important events in my life. Be it a special birthday, one of my public lectures, the death of a loved one or, the visits at times when I was ill: My friend never failed to support and comfort me.
One evening, many years ago, on her arrival in the Mayoral Box at Johannesburg’s Civic Theatre to listen to one of my presentations, the doyenne of the South African musical stage, Joan Brickhill, was presented to her. The famous star curtsied and said to the Queen: “I have heard so much about you that I almost feel I have known you forever – and, I am not quite sure how I should address you.”
Queen Susan took Joan by the hand and said to her: “I have been an ardent fan of yours for many years and I am your greatest admirer. You call me Susan and I will call you Your Majesty.” And that was the essence of the Susan I knew.
A Queen every inch of the way but a human being to the core of her heart; a real person that respected others and paid them the tribute they deserved. Her greatest gifts were how she could make the most insignificant of people feel comfortable and how she brought out the inner aristocracy in everyone she met.
Her Majesty, Queen Susan of the Albanians may be dead, but Susan - my friend and confidante - will live forever in my heart. And alongside her warm and loyal friendship she has also bequeathed to me her King and her Crown Prince. All the sincerity, care, concern and loyalty she showed me over the years I now pledge to my remaining two friends of this extraordinary family: His Majesty The King and His Royal Highness The Crown Prince of the Albanians. I salute both of you as I bid my Queen farewell.
Johannesburg, Tuesday, 20 July 2004: 23:00