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A fond farewell to a Canadian tour with a dozen roses, 72 years overdue

Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, talk with Frances Miller (C) after she presented them with flowers at the airport in Calgary, Alberta, July 8, 2011.

REUTERS / Todd Korol/REUTERS / Todd Korol

It was a second chance Frances Miller had waited 72 years for, and it almost eluded her once again.

As a nine-year-old, Ms. Miller was chosen to give flowers to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (known later as the Queen Mother) during their 1939 Canadian tour. The royal train, however, missed its stop in the girl's town, Walsh, Alta., leaving her clutching her flowers.

Soon after, the royal family apologized in a letter. "And that was the end of it," said Ms. Miller, now 81. "I never ever dreamed this would happen now."

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She now lives in Medicine Hat, and it was after a campaign started by her granddaughter and local newspaper that Ms. Miller got a spot on the tarmac on Friday in Calgary to bid farewell to the Queen Mother's great-grandson, William, and his wife, Catherine.

Long overdue, she arrived with her granddaughter, Kara Meier, at her side to give the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge 12 red roses. William momentarily missed her, but doubled back and greeted her, joined by Catherine, to whom Ms. Miller gave the flowers.

"He said: 'Well, now you've got to do it this time, anyways,' " she said. "It was just very overwhelming. They are just a beautiful couple."

The chance to keep the long-delayed appointment was a fitting end to a tour in which William and Catherine demonstrated a common touch and injected some excitement into Canadians' relationship with the monarchy. They drew thousands of cheering fans at every turn.

"Throughout the tour, Canadians expressed their profound attachment to the Crown of Canada and provided The Duke and Duchess with the special hospitality and warmth reserved for members of our royal family," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement released by his office.

Their final day in Calgary was a demonstration of two of Alberta's iconic identities - one part cowboy, one part oil worker.

In the morning, the Duke and Duchess drove the route of the Calgary Stampede parade, waving at hundreds of thousands gathered along the downtown streets, before arriving at its starting point. There, they kicked off the annual tradition when, her hand atop his, they pressed a ceremonial red button, sending fireworks and confetti into the sunny morning skies as Canadian Forces fighter jets roared above. They waved at participants and clapped for soldiers who marched past.

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Afterwards, they headed to the Calgary Zoo for the official Alberta government reception. They were shown demonstrations of carbon capture-and-storage technology, of the technique used to extract oil from the province's vast deposits of gritty bitumen oil sands and a University of Alberta researcher's work on solar cells.

"We hope that you will return again very soon," Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach told them inside the reception. "And you have, of course, enhanced lives in Alberta greatly by your visit."

Although the royal visit's time was up, Calgary's party is just beginning. Over 10 days, the cherished Stampede is expected to draw more than a million visitors while sweeping the city with Western attire and country music.

The royal couple, who gave their official goodbye speech on Thursday evening, departed at 2 p.m. local time on Friday. They stood at the door of their plane and waved - with the Duchess clutching the 12 red roses, 72 years overdue.

"I think they'll have a huge impact on the country because they're so down to earth," Ms. Miller said. "They're just, you know - I wouldn't say ordinary people, but they're very casual and very personable, both of them are. And it's wonderful for our country."

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