It is unlikely the world will ever encounter a Margaret Thatcher again. Her courage, confidence in her views, power of persuasion are simply sui generis.
I knew Margaret Thatcher, not well; yet well enough to form opinions. For several years in the late 1990’s she and I planned conferences with spokesmen on both sides of the Atlantic she admired. The first of these encounters was in Weston Park in the United Kingdom. Lady Thatcher did not offer a paper, but she was the first to deliver commentary after a paper was read. In my opinion, every comment she made had a clear, unequivocal target. Rarely did she miss the bull’s eye.
At breakfast each day she arrived promptly, every hair very much in place. She loathed delays, a concern I took to heart. On several occasions she asked me to accompany her on an evening sabbatical. She held my arm tightly. When I inquired about her relationship with Ronald Reagan, she referred to him as “the great one.” Whatever differences they may have had, her affection for him was genuine.
Although Lady Thatcher had a reputation for tough mindedness, she had a tender side that was usually overlooked. In his last years, Sir Dennis, her much adored husband, was suffering from a form of incremental senility. On one occasion, he demanded to know my sentiments about Bangladesh. I was confused since I hadn’t expressed an opinion on the subject. Sir Dennis became unduly animated about the matter despite my effort to mollify him. Noticing this encounter with her peripheral vision, Lady Thatcher walked over took Sir Dennis’ hand and said, “why don’t we take a walk together.”
At the end of each evening with cigar smoke billowing, Lady Thatcher was at her best. She had an opinion on almost everything and, remarkably an intelligent opinion. But it was those walks across the campus that I remember most fondly.
Years after these annual encounters, I saw Lady Thatcher at a dinner in London. It was obvious that a series of small strokes had set her back. In fact, I was told she may not remember who you are. I approached apprehensively.
When I mentioned my name she looked at me and said, “I remember our evening walks ‘Herbert Darling’”, a name she used for me. I didn’t know what to say except that I was flattered she would recall encounters that meant so much to me and probably so little to her.
At a time when courage among western leaders is in short supply and when conviction is an unknown commodity, Lady Thatcher continues to stand as an exemplar. As the European Union displays its many weaknesses, Lady Thatcher seems prescient in her blistering skepticism about the Union. And when Europe tries to redress its financial woes with free market applications, the ghost of Lady Thatcher is having a long and well deserved laugh.
She loved the free market, she hated transnational entities unresponsive to the will of the people and she detested backbiting since straight forward exchanges always seemed to yield a desirable end, or so she thought. I long for those walks with her. Of course that won’t happen, but the memory of the past lingers and always brings a smile to my face.
Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America).
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