The Island

Jack Knox is a columnist with the Victoria Times Colonist.

They quietly removed the big portrait of Prince Andrew from the entrance to the Royal Victoria Yacht Club last week.

His photo was pulled from the boardroom wall, too.

That was before Sunday, when the Duke of York stepped back from his role as royal patron of 230 organizations, including two on Vancouver Island — the Maple Bay and Royal Victoria yacht clubs.

In doing so, the Queen’s third-eldest child relieved such groups of a tricky task: figuring out how to handle their close association with a prominent figure who had suddenly become problematic. Think of Bill Cosby and Jell-O.

Even before Sunday’s announcement, groups were distancing themselves from the 59-year-old. He is in trouble over his onetime friendship with convicted American child sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who killed himself in prison in August, and over a woman’s allegation that she was coerced into having sex with Andrew in 2001 when she was 17. He vigorously denies her assertion.

Last week, Ontario’s Lakefield College School, which Andrew attended as a teen, announced its relationship with him was over. Ditto for the Canadian Canoe Museum and Toronto’s SickKids Foundation, as well as a number of organizations overseas.

There was no word yet from the Maple Bay Yacht Club (though its website still declared the Duke of York to be its patron). But the Royal Victoria Yacht Club, where Andrew has been royal patron since 1989, confirmed that yes, when Andrew announced last Wednesday that he was taking a break from his royal duties, it seemed like a good time to take the portraits off the walls.

“At that point, we said: ‘You know what, we’re going to remove the pictures and let the board review it,’ ” said general manager Simon Gatrell on Monday.

The gesture was largely symbolic, but then so was Andrew’s involvement with the club. As honorary patron, it’s not as though he was to be found scraping barnacles on Saturday mornings.

He did actually visit the club once, though, in June 2003. Close to 700 people showed up on that occasion, including 100 who won a lottery to lunch with him. (“Have you ever seen so many pairs of white pants?” asked the wife of one member. “There must have been a real run on white shoe polish,” another woman whispered.) The Esquimalt High jazz band played God Save the Queen.

Andrew returned to Victoria (though not to the club) in May 2013, when his presence inspired record attendance at the 150th Victoria Highland Games and Celtic Festival.

“I’ve lived in Victoria for 30 years and I’ve never been to the games. I had to come see him,” the TC quoted a Langford woman as saying then. “We can still call him Randy Andy — that was his name when he was a young bachelor and he’s still charismatic and charming and handsome.”

That’s not a quote that has necessarily aged well.

(It was also on this visit that one of Government House’s volunteer gardeners said Andrew offered this advice for dealing with deer laying waste to the rose garden: “He said: ‘It’s very simple. This is what we do at Balmoral. You just get a truck. You fill it with feed. The deer come up to it and you shoot them. It’s so simple.’ ”)

Some people might not like the yacht club’s decision to pull down the pictures of the prince, equating it with attempts by politicians or other decision-makers to remove portraits of the Queen from public places (full disclosure: I am among those who fulminated when B.C. Ferries briefly removed the Queen’s portrait from its vessels.)

But the yacht club’s action wasn’t about that. It wasn’t about the Royal Family or the monarchy’s place in Canada. Instead, it’s about how an organization responds when serious allegations are made against someone it holds in a place of honour.

This isn’t easy. Andrew has been charged with nothing. He has been convicted of nothing. Yet no one could walk by that portrait in the entrance to the yacht club without thinking of the cloud of suspicion surrounding him, and of what kind of message would be sent by keeping the picture in place while that suspicion remained.

Some members say they want him gone, period.

“At this point, we’re just waiting for the palace to let us know who our patron will be,” Gatrell said.

Jack Knox is a columnist with the Victoria Times Colonist.