Today, Margaret Thatcher will be laid to rest. She was Britain’s first — and, to date, only — female prime minister and the longest serving person to hold this position during the 20th century.
Thatcher, 87, was known as the “Iron Lady” by both supporters and detractors, most recently in the movie starring Meryl Streep. She has been enormously influential in my life and truly was and remains one of my heroes.
I am one of “Thatcher’s Children,” the term used by the British media to denote that generation that came of age during her premiership between 1979 and 1990. I am proud to say that we are known for adopting her ideology of private enterprise, a free market economy, low taxation and self-reliance — qualities which were all too rare in the United Kingdom during the 1970s.
Many Americans compare “Maggie,” as she was affectionately called, to Ronald Reagan, whose presidency from 1981-89 coincided with her time in office. While they had similar philosophies and became close friends and allies, I would argue that Thatcher’s transformational impact on the land of my birth was far greater.
Britain in the 1970s was a broken society. A series of weak, post-war governments created a nation of entitlements and pandering to unions but failed to really develop a solid economic engine to fund it all. This culminated in the “winter of discontent” of 1978-79, which I remember all too well: garbage piling up in the streets, power outages as a result of strikes, and most businesses on a three-day work week due to power cuts and labor unrest.
Thatcher was not afraid to tackle anything, including the unions, inflation, taxation or the Argentinian army when they invaded the British Falkland Islands in 1982. I am thrilled that she developed a special relationship with the United States through working closely with Ronald Reagan. Her rise from humble beginnings as a grocer’s daughter reminds me of the American dream in which anyone can make it if they have the ability and right work ethic.
“Maggie” was much loved and given tremendous support by her husband, Dennis Thatcher, who, although a successful business man in his own right, was happy to take a back seat when his wife became prime minister.
I have a good friend from Philadelphia who, in the reverse of my journey, married an English man and now lives in the U.K. We are similar ages, and she benefited from Reagan’s policies and commitment to free markets and freedom as I benefited from Thatcher’s leadership. While I was visiting the U.K. a few years ago, we met for lunch at the fabulous Goring Hotel in London. We saw Margaret Thatcher there, enjoying her meal at this famously English location with a group of friends and family. Even as a frail old lady, she still had a commanding presence and was smartly dressed with her trademark large handbag and hairstyle.
I think it is fitting that she will be given a state funeral — the first British prime minister to be given this accolade since Winston Churchill. It is wonderful that the queen will attend and that Mrs. Thatcher will make her final journey to St Paul’s Cathedral in a ceremonial open-gun carriage. I am pleased that my American friend will stand in for me as she lines the street near the cathedral with the general public to pay her respects. I wish I could be there.
Yes, there are those that disliked her policies and saw her as a divisive figure. But Britain in the 1970s and early ‘80s was divided, and the country was in desperate need of a strong, clear-thinking leader with the drive and determination to get to grips with the problems. Today, the land of my birth is far better for it.
God bless America!
Lesley Francis grew up in London, England, and moved to Richmond Hill in 2009.