When I visited Lady Thatcher yesterday evening for drinks at her home I told her that I would have to return afterwards to my office to write this article. Her forthrightly robust response was, “Well that is your fault. You should have written it earlier.” Nevertheless I was pleased I waited. Another visitor to Chester Square this evening was Lady Thatcher’s long serving Personal Assistant Cynthia Crawford, known to all as Crawfie. Crawfie was telling me last night that she was present the very first time that Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher met. Crawfie had joined Mrs Thatcher’s team a short time beforehand and was asked by Mrs Thatcher to lay out a tray of tea and coffee for Mr Reagan’s arrival. Afterwards Mrs Thatcher told Crawfie that Mr Reagan had told her that he ‘intended to try and become President’. The Leader of the Opposition told Mr Reagan, “I am going to become Prime Minister.”
She was, of course, right. Yet no one could have imagined then that the meeting between these two people would literally change the course of history, as President Ronald Reagan invited Margaret Thatcher to be his first visiting head of Government. Eight years later she was to be his last. So much had been accomplished in that short time.
Next to Lady Thatcher’s armchair in her living room is a table on which there are always several books that she enjoys reading. Mostly they are books containing some of her favourite poems and, in particular, one of Kipling’s works. Usually there is one on politics. For many months John O’Sullivan’s book ‘The President, The Pope and The Prime Minister,’ with the simple subtitle ‘Three who changed the world’ was that book. Three who changed the world resonates with their achievements more than any words others can write today.
More recently John O’Sullivan’s book has been added to by another. Throughout his time in public life Ronald Reagan used to write down good quotes, stories, jokes and one-liners. These were all written down on index cards and placed in a folder which always sat in his desk drawer. This year, to mark the centenary of President Reagan’s birth, these were published in full under the title ‘The Notes’. On a recent visit to the States the Head of the Reagan Foundation Fred Ryan told me about ‘The Notes’ and arranged for a copy to be waiting for me at the Reagan Library. Then seeing it at the airport, I asked him to arrange for one to be there for me to take to Lady Thatcher. When I returned to London I brought the gift-wrapped book in to give to her. The expression of delight when she opened it and saw Ronald Reagan’s face on the front was a joy. Several weeks on this book is now very well thumbed and has many pages folded over to signify particular interest or approval. The special relationship between the two is well.
There are many names that one can mention to Lady Thatcher these days that do not get an instant response. Yet the mention of Ronald Reagan’s name brings an immediate smile and an affectionate comment. As she said last night, “I was lucky to work with such a great man.”
It is sad that Lady Thatcher will not be at today’s events to honour her great friend. Yet perhaps it is right. Today we will celebrate the life of a great American President and lover of freedom and liberty. Yet as we remember Ronald Reagan and his achievements we will remember that they could not have happened without the support of the late Pope John Paul II. Or, indeed, of Margaret Thatcher. Maybe it is right that none of the ‘Three Who Changed The World’ are there in person tomorrow. All will be, equally, there in spirit.
I will reflect on Lady T’s words at Ronald Reagan’s funeral when she said, “We have one beacon to guide us that Ronald Reagan never had. We have his example.” Let that beacon extend to include the other two of the ‘The Three’. And in their inspiration may we not be found wanting.