For people around my age, Margaret Thatcher was an iconic figure of our formative years. As prime minister of Great Britain from 1979-1990, she was a ground-breaking, glass-ceiling-shattering woman.
But the way she conducted herself — with self-assurance, confidence and class — took the focus off her as a woman and kept it on her as a leader. Thus, it didn’t really seem so remarkable that she was the first female prime minister (in a time before we even had a female secretary of state) — we were more wowed by her as a person than as a woman specifically. And isn’t that the way it should be?
A married mother of two, Thatcher worked as a research chemist and lawyer before winning a seat in the House of Commons in 1959. She gradually rose through the political ranks until she was elected prime minister.
During her time in office, she overhauled the British economy and privatized industry. President Ronald Reagan was one of her firmest allies. It was their connection that allowed Americans to know the Iron Lady in those pre-24-hour news, pre-Internet days.
Thatcher was a key part of the defense policies used to topple the Soviet Union. The pressure she put on the U.S. helped convince us to oust Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.
The sweeping changes she facilitated in Britain (along with her strong personality) made her a polarizing and often unpopular figure among her own people, though she was a superstar to much of the world.
She was always dignified and always in control, though she did not flaunt her power. As she famously remarked, “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”
Thatcher was both charismatic and stoic — an interesting and effective combination. A highly visible leader, she set the stage for future females in powerful positions, even in other countries, such as Madeline Albright and Condoleezza Rice. Her influence is immeasurable.
Potently quotable, she summed up modern society succinctly when she observed, “One of the great problems of our age is that we are governed by people who care more about feelings than they do about thoughts and ideas.” Those words, spoken three decades ago, seem almost prophetic now.
After leaving office, Thatcher was appointed to the House of Lords in 1993. Her health gradually declined over the years and she suffered several small strokes. She retreated from public life in recent years, partly due to memory problems caused by the strokes. Baroness Thatcher died April 8 at age 87 after a more severe stroke.
Typically, when a respected world leader or head of state dies, our president attends the funeral or sends a delegation in his place, but President Barack Obama did not make the trip to London. Former presidents are often dispatched to such events — none were. Obvious choices such as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were not sent. It was widely — if quietly — reported Obama did not send an official representative at all.
In fact, he sent a “low-key delegation” led by two Thatcher-era secretaries of state, George Shultz and James Baker. While both were reasonable choices because of their connection to Thatcher, it was clearly not important to the president to send current or recent leaders.
There is no explanation for the president’s blatant snub of our allies in the United Kingdom, particularly considering he sent a delegation to attend socialist (and borderline communist) Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s funeral in March.
The distinction of Chavez being a sitting president versus Thatcher no longer being in office is meaningless. Chavez was extremely critical of the United States and relations between us and Venezuela were strained at best.
On the other hand, Thatcher was perhaps our greatest ally since Winston Churchill. She deserves our collective respect whether or not we agreed with her politics, which were, of course, radically conservative.
Thatcher’s unwavering confidence in her own convictions was so well known that she often said she was a “conviction politician” rather than a “consensus politician.”
She was extraordinarily thick-skinned and never faltered in her beliefs, no matter how much anyone disagreed. Her sharp wit showed when she declared, “When I’m out of politics I’m going to run a business; it’ll be called rent-a-spine.”
Most other politicians could learn a great deal from her example — instead of changing opinions with the wind, stand firm. As Thatcher herself said, “To those waiting with bated breath for that favorite media catchphrase, the U-turn, I have only one thing to say. You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning.”
Margaret Thatcher’s influence on Britain will be felt for many years. On our side of the pond, we can appreciate her influence and alliance without a connection to politics. Whenever we witness history, there is so much we can learn.
Rebecca Horvath of Johnson City is a wife, mother and community activist.