People willing to purchase a sleeping bag and sleep outdoors for two nights just to watch the coronation of King Charles III arguably deserve their own personal crown.

Marlene Koenig, a Virginia Tech librarian for the Washington-Alexandria Architecture Center (WAAC) in Alexandria, and the university’s resident historian on British and European royalty, endured several waves of rain to experience the historic event.

The rain didn’t dampen Koenig’s spirits when she traveled to London in May to witness England’s first coronation service in nearly 70 years.

“It was worth it, absolutely worth it,” Koenig said. “I would have regretted watching it from my couch. We could only hear it [from] a sound system on the Mall [a road near Buckingham Palace, headquarters of the monarchy], but we knew when the king was crowned by the Archbishop of Canterbury when you could hear ‘God save the King’ being sung up and down the Mall. 'Zadok the Priest,' which is written by Handel for the 1727 coronation, has been sung at every single one since. I got goosebumps just hearing it. It was just amazing.”

Koenig, who is retiring from the university on July 7, has been nearly as valuable for Virginia Tech because of her knowledge of royal history in addition to her proficiency as the WAAC’s librarian for the past 15 years. When people from within Virginia Tech’s media relations team needed a person with vast knowledge of England and the inner workings of the British monarchy, they usually reached out to Koenig, who started acquiring this knowledge as a middle school student in northern New Jersey.

A deep love of history and learning and an admitted fascination with British royalty led to her reading as many books and news articles as possible during her childhood and college days. She later started submitting articles for magazines and newspapers and doing interviews with media outlets such as The Associated Press, USA Today, CNN, National Public Radio, and even the British Broadcasting Corporation.

Marlene Koenig and King Charles at an event
Marlene Koenig's vast knowledge of the royal family has led to her gaining unprecedented access to the family throughout the years. Here, Koenig (at right) is chatting with King Charles at an event held at the British embassy in Washington, D.C., in the mid-1990s. Photo courtesy of Marlene Koenig.

“It's the history, and remember, it's a part of our heritage, too,” Koenig said, explaining her passion for the topic. “We live in Virginia, which, of course, is named for Elizabeth I. … To me, it's just fascinating, the personalities. Of course, these days, there are constitutional monarchs in Europe, but they don't make the power – that’s the government. King Charles is there to advise. He reigns, but he doesn't rule. But it's just those fascinating personalities.”

Koenig earned her master’s degree in library science from SUNY Albany in 1981 and spent 20 years working as a news librarian, so she knows how to find information. During that time, she gradually gained access to the royal family, exchanging correspondence with family members and eventually writing several books.

In 1992, she was presented to Queen Elizabeth II, who was in the United States on a state visit, at a private press reception held at a local Washington, D.C., hotel. She curtsied and made small talk with the queen before moving along.

“I don't remember anything we said,” Koenig said. “That happens to a lot of people. But it was great. It was quite cool. I mean, I've seen her many, many times, but to be presented and talk to her was pretty cool.”

She also has a photo with King Charles, who took over the throne after Queen Elizabeth’s passing last September, and she once was presented to Prince Philip, King Charles’ now late father. In addition, Koenig’s been to celebrations, weddings, funerals, and all four jubilees – major milestones in the reign of the monarchy – for the late Queen.

In fact, Koenig’s presence at King Charles’ coronation marked her 51st visit to England – rather heady stuff for the librarian of Virginia Tech’s WAAC.

Marlene Koenig and Prince Leka of Albania
Marlene Koenig has met dignitaries from other countries as well throughout her career, including Prince Leka of Albania during a trip to Bucharest in 2020. Photo courtesy of Marlene Koenig.

“We're kind of a unique program,” Susan Piedmont-Palladino, director of WAAC, said. “We have a unique library, and so it's fitting we have a unique librarian.

“At the WAAC, many of us have these sort of side interests, which I think is always kind of fun, and Marlene’s is definitely unique. Everybody’s unique, right? I think hers is a really unusual field — knowledge not really related to architecture or design, but then those fields tend to attract people with wide-ranging interests.

“Everyone here at the WAAC, our students, our faculty and staff, including me, have those kinds of serious hobbies, in music, art, or athletics, and I think it enriches our environment.”

Koenig’s presence will be missed, according to Piedmont-Palladino. She not only provided expertise on a topic unfamiliar to most Americans, but she also excelled in her position as a librarian. Piedmont-Palladino said she appreciated Koenig’s willingness to help students, whether that be finding books and other information or through casual conversations that provided a refreshing respite away from their studies.

“You can't really replace somebody with all those characteristics, and Marlene is popular among the students,” Piedmont-Palladino said. “They love going and talking to her. You never know what you're going to chat about.”

Koenig’s pending retirement will provide her with more time to devote to her passions. She loves photography and often visits the wildlife areas within the Chesapeake Bay watershed to take photos. She also loves the Washington Nationals baseball team and plans on regular trips to Nationals Park. Of course, she’ll have more time for additional research on the royal family and more time to dedicate to her blog.

These are all parts of her kingdom. Now, nothing gets to distract her from her throne.  

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