Guest Columns

SMITH: IN THE COMPANY OF TWO GREAT WORLD LEADERS

My memorable evening with Maggie & Ron

Contributing Columnist

“Let’s go talk to Margaret Thatcher,” my brother-in-law, Phelps Anderson said. He was the Republican National Committeeman for New Mexico and we were at the annual Atlantic Richfield (ARCO) dinner in London where both Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were to be the speakers. His father, Robert O. Anderson was the Chairman of ARCO; thus our invitation. It was the early ‘90s, both Reagan and Thatcher were out of office and, therefore, free to talk openly.

As we crossed the room where the cocktails were being served, the two Brits with Margaret Thatcher darted away. We soon learned why. She was still fuming over the fact that her party had turned her out and was going to tell us all about it. Nonetheless, we knew that we were in the presence of someone very rare, a true world leader.

Shortly thereafter, President Reagan crossed through the room with his security entourage. I asked Phelps to introduce me to him but he was too timid so I walked over and tapped the President on the shoulder. Then, not knowing what to say, I just stated my name. “I’m Ronald Reagan,” he answered with a smile as he extended what seemed like a huge hand.

The dinner itself was fascinating but very sad. Thatcher spoke too long in an attempt to vindicate her policies and to vent over the way her party had treated her. The sense of fascination and respect that we Americans in the audience felt for her wasn’t shared by many of the Brits who were restless and squirming in their chairs.

Then President Reagan spoke. His remarks were totally different — casual, funny, seemingly off the cuff, something that would be easy for a person who had spent so many years in public life. No matter what you thought of his policies, he was a person you had to admire, to feel deep affection for.

Then suddenly he stopped. It wasn’t, in fact, an off the cuff speech. There was some kind of prompting system that had malfunctioned and, as a result, he was just standing there as though paralyzed. This was obviously the beginnings of Alzheimer’s although we had no idea at the time.

Now they’re both gone. ARCO is gone too, swallowed up by BP. Continental Airlines, the company that (via the dynamic Pat Lee) did so much to promote Colorado is also gone. As for the speeches, I don’t remember a word of either presentation. I do know, however, that for a few brief hours, I was honored to be in the presence of two great leaders.

Morgan Smith is a former state representative and Commissioner of Agriculture. He can be reached at Morgan-smith@comcast.net.