Margaret Thatcher 1923-2013: A Remembrance

Margaret Thatcher 1923-2013: A Remembrance

Excerpt­ed from a trib­ute in Finest Hour, Sum­mer 2013.

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Bar­bara Lang­worth with Lady Thatch­er, British Embassy, Wash­ing­ton, 5 Novem­ber 1993

Every­one has read of Lady Thatcher’s career. Every­one depend­ing on their pol­i­tics will have their own vision of her. It is left to say here what she meant to the mem­o­ry of Win­ston Churchill, who she revered more than any pre­mier who held office between them.

Mar­garet Thatch­er was named an hon­orary mem­ber of the Inter­na­tion­al Churchill Soci­ety short­ly after she resigned as prime min­is­ter in Novem­ber 1990, not with­out con­cern. She had always been con­tro­ver­sial. Some of our direc­tors thought politi­cians are best tak­en aboard in pairs, one from each side, like Noah’s Ark. We invit­ed her exclusively—because it seemed to us that as prime min­is­ter, she more than any­one had real appre­ci­a­tion for Churchill, had read his books, had remem­bered him fre­quent­ly, even host­ing a din­ner for his fam­i­ly and sur­viv­ing mem­bers of his wartime coali­tion. We nev­er regret­ted our decision.

In 1993 she was in Wash­ing­ton to coin­cide with an Inter­na­tion­al Churchill Con­fer­ence host­ing 500 peo­ple, includ­ing 140 stu­dents, a dozen lumi­nar­ies, and ambas­sadors from all our mem­ber coun­tries. Ambas­sador Sir Robin Ren­wick kind­ly host­ed a recep­tion for her and us at the British Embassy, invit­ing our hon­orary mem­bers Col­in Pow­ell and Cas­par Wein­berg­er. Here I first caught sight of the famous leader, though my wife, a much bet­ter talk­er, spent far more time chat­ting with her.

I did over­hear a con­ver­sa­tion between Lady Thatch­er and Gen­er­al Pow­ell, which at the time I thought sin­gu­lar. “Now Col­in,” she was say­ing in her most pow­er­ful tones, “you must do it—you know you must. There is no get­ting around your duty.” I am told she was like­ly ask­ing him to use his influ­ence in solv­ing the strife in Bosnia that had erupt­ed the pre­vi­ous year.

She gave an elo­quent lit­tle speech thank­ing Amer­i­ca for sup­port­ing Britain in the 1982 Falk­lands War. The next evening at the Mayflower Hotel, I was seat­ed next to for­mer U.S. Ambas­sador to the Unit­ed Nations Jeane Kirk­patrick, who want­ed to know what Lady Thatch­er had said. Unknow­ing, I repeat­ed her words: that many voic­es in Amer­i­ca were opposed to help­ing Britain, “but Cap Wein­berg­er was not one of those voic­es.” Mrs. Kirk­patrick said qui­et­ly: “I was one of those voices.”

Real­iz­ing I had not done my home­work, but opt­ing for Napoleon’s “l’audace, tou­jours l’audace,” I screwed up my courage and replied: “But you were wrong, weren’t you?”

A very long pause ensued, bring­ing to mind Churchill’s remark: It cer­tain­ly seemed longer than the two min­utes which one observes in the com­mem­o­ra­tions of Armistice Day.” Final­ly Mrs. Kirk­patrick kind­ly said: “Yes, on reflec­tion, I prob­a­bly was.” I think this showed the pow­er of per­son­al­i­ty that Mar­garet Thatch­er exert­ed, even on those who had dis­agreed with her.

At the Embassy I had pre­sent­ed her with a fine­ly bound copy of Churchill’s 1947 short sto­ry, The Dream, where he tells the ghost of his father all that has hap­pened since Lord Ran­dolph Churchill died in 1895. At one point, Win­ston says there are women in the House of Com­mons.  “Not many,” he assures his flab­ber­gast­ed father. “They have found their lev­el.” Lady Thatch­er wrote me that she stayed up all that night read­ing the sto­ry. How she must have roared at that!

We met again at Ful­ton in 1996, when the Churchill Memo­r­i­al, now the Nation­al Churchill Muse­um, marked the 50th anniver­sary of the “Iron Cur­tain” speech by invit­ing Lady Thatch­er to give the anniver­sary address. After­wards, she was sur­round­ed by Ful­ton peo­ple, and by secu­ri­ty. Celia Sandys asked, “Have you been ush­ered into The Pres­ence?” No, I said. “Fol­low me,” she replied, approach­ing the guard at the inner sanc­tum: “I am Sir Win­ston Churchill’s granddaughter—and he’s with me.” We were allowed in to say hello.

Pay­back: at din­ner that night, our gen­er­ous hosts induct­ed two new Fel­lows of the Churchill Memo­r­i­al. One was Mar­garet Thatch­er. The oth­er was me.

To my relief, they pre­sent­ed my gong first, which gave me a chance to say thanks and get out of the way: “It is a fine hon­or, but to receive it at the same time with the great­est prime min­is­ter since Win­ston Churchill is a unique experience.”

I said that look­ing direct­ly at the Iron Lady….who gave me a smile, and a wink. Right, I thought. Now that’s out of the way, thank God.

It was years before the grat­i­tude owed to her was tot­ed up. No reg­u­lar vis­i­tor to Britain dur­ing her time failed to notice the pal­pa­ble improve­ment in the lot of Britons. No tele­vi­sion view­er who saw her in action could miss her dev­as­tat­ing effec­tive­ness in debate. No one who admires prin­ci­ple and courage could help but admire her devo­tion to them, win or lose. The poll tax issue which some say was her down­fall in 1992 man­i­fest­ed her prin­ci­ple that the cost of local gov­ern­ment be paid by all, includ­ing those who pre­vi­ous­ly paid noth­ing, while vot­ing for everything.

Inter­na­tion­al­ly, she was always out in front. Her reac­tion to tyrants, from Leopol­do Galti­eri to Sad­dam Hus­sein, was con­sis­tent. She was the first to say “we can do busi­ness” with Gor­bachev. Her sup­port of the Anglo-Amer­i­can alliance was more than talk: it was an arti­cle of faith. Her rela­tion­ship with Pres­i­dent Rea­gan was a mod­el we may nev­er see again. Yet when she dis­agreed, as over Grena­da or Strate­gic Defense, there was no doubt where she stood.

She fought the good fight and made a huge dif­fer­ence, for a time. Alas her time is past, lost in a col­lec­tivist dream. It is strict­ly my opin­ion, but this Amer­i­can has no hes­i­ta­tion in para­phras­ing Sir Winston’s words on Roo­sevelt: She was the great­est British friend we have known since Churchill, and one of the great­est cham­pi­ons of free­dom who ever brought help and com­fort from the old world to the new.

 

2 thoughts on “Margaret Thatcher 1923-2013: A Remembrance

  1. Thanks Richard, first for intro­duc­ing me near­ly 20 years ago to the won­der­ful and awe-inspir­ing world of Win­ston Churchill. I did not have a full under­stand­ing of his impor­tance to Anglo-Amer­i­can rela­tions as I lived through the Rea­gan-Thatch­er years and could not ful­ly appre­ci­ate that I had been priv­i­leged to pass through one of the best peri­ods an Amer­i­can could expe­ri­ence. One was just delight­ed in and proud of our leader and can now see how impor­tant Lady Thatch­er was to the total­i­ty of the glow.
    Oh, it was good to have been an Amer­i­can in those years and I think most Britons must feel the same way about their country.

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