By Jerry Pacheco
I stood up Margaret Thatcher about 15 years ago– well, sort of. The Iron Lady, who was Prime Minister of the U.K. from 1979 to 1990, was coming to Santa Fe, New Mexico to give a speech. Her visit occurred only a few years after she left office. Thatcher had risen to icon status throughout the world as a strong politician with considerable negotiation skills and bull-headed determination. Conservative political leader and nemesis of the British Labour Party, she inherited a nation that for the period after WWII had become very socialistic and was at that time referred to as the “Sick Man of Europe,” as Spain was two hundred years before. Morale was low in the country and the economy had been in a long-term funk.
I remember reading an interview with the Beatles when they were reminiscing about traveling to work the clubs in Hamburg, Germany, in the early 1960s, before they were famous. Upon reaching Hamburg, they exclaimed, “This is the country that lost the war?”commenting on the modern, bustling German city with all of its amenities, compared to the gilded buildings and cities back home. To fuel the socialistic bent in the U.K.’s economy, high taxes were being exacted upon the population. This would result in entertainers such as the Rolling Stones moving away from their home country and taking residence in places such as France and the U.S., to escape tax rates that were often more than 50 percent. Years after Beatlemania, Britain’s famous punk rock movement was fueled by the lack of job opportunities for young people and the general malaise of the nation.
Upon assuming the Prime Minister’s office in 1979, Thatcher took firm measures to privatize state-owned industries and to decrease the power of unions, which she believed were undermining the nation’s economic health. She also took measures to reduce taxes and to control high inflation rates. Her policies were very controversial and she had many highly publicized battles with opposition groups.
From a military standpoint, the 1982 Falklands War with Argentina, over the British-controlled Falkland Islands, cemented her reputation as a strong, decisive leader who was not afraid to use the military to defend her country’s interests. Thatcher also established a strong strategic and personal relationship with U.S. President Ronald Reagan. This partnership was instrumental in standing strong against communism, and many historians have credited this as a major factor that resulted in the eventual implosion of the Soviet Union.
Now, the Iron Lady was coming to Santa Fe to give a speech at the invitation of a prominent international association. I had heard about her upcoming visit and I was surprised when a lady identifying herself as part of Thatcher’s advance team called wanting my help in providing information on North American Free Trade Agreement statistics and anecdotes. For several days before her visit, I was in contact with her advance team, providing various information and answering questions. Her staff was meticulous in the research for her speech, a portion of which focused on the importance of bringing down barriers to trade and increasing exports.
The day before Thatcher’s visit, I was called by a member of the international association which was the host inviting me to her speech, since I had been working with her staff. Fifteen years have eroded my memory of the scheduling conflict that I had, but I politely turned down the invitation.
Almost immediately after her speech, a friend of mine who attended called me on my cell phone to ask me where I was. He told me that Thatcher had publicly thanked me during her speech and asked if I was in the audience. Later, her staff called to tell me that she had personally wanted to thank me afterwards and she was disappointed that we were not able to meet.
It is telling that I can’t even remember what I did that took precedence over going to the Thatcher speech. As much as I wished I had attended her speech back then, I wish I had done so even more now. I can’t believe that I passed up an opportunity to hear her speak and to meet her personally. It would have been something that I could have recounted to my family for years to come. Today, I tell people that I had the audacity to stand up Thatcher, which is not technically what happened, but it allows me to salvage something from this missed opportunity.
I was sad to hear of Thatcher’s passing and even more surprised at how she still evokes raw emotions from people she affected, not only from her fans, but her detractors, who hung banners stating, “Ding dong the witch is dead” and “The Iron Lady – rust in peace”. Whatever, you think of her, she will go down as a major player in shaping history – a player for whom I wish I would have canceled my other appointment that day she came to Santa Fe.