'Iron Lady' Margaret Thatcher remembered fondly in Fulton

Monday, April 8, 2013 | 6:09 p.m. CDT
In this June 19, 2006, file photo, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a member of the Order of the Garter, leaves St. George's Chapel in Windsor, near London, after attending the annual Garter Service where the younger sons of Queen Elizabeth, the Duke of York and the Earl of Wessex, were formally admitted to the order. Thatcher's former spokesman, Tim Bell, said the former prime minister, known to both friends and foes as "The Iron Lady," died of a stroke Monday morning. She was 87.

Looking back at the 1996 visit of Lady Margaret Thatcher to Fulton, Cathy McGeorge's fondest memory came as the former prime minister of Britain was getting ready to leave Fulton.

Thatcher made only one request on her final morning in the Loganberry Inn; she wanted McGeorge and her husband, Carl, the owners of the bed and breakfast that hosted the former British prime minister in Fulton, to join her for breakfast in the parlor.

"Who does that?" McGeorge asked Monday, reflecting on the breakfast invitation.

Known as the "Iron Lady" in the political world for her steadfast demeanor, Thatcher is remembered differently by the McGeorge family. McGeorge said Thatcher was personable and humble. She wanted to know about the lives of her hosts for the weekend as she revisited the site where Winston Churchill delivered his "Iron Curtain" speech in 1946. Thatcher died Monday.

"I was extremely sad to hear she passed today," McGeorge said. "We send our condolences to everyone who cared for her and looked up to her."

"She was interested in how policies affected us as a family and how the school system affected our kids," McGeorge said. "I was very surprised in how she was so interested in our family and our lives in a small town in central Missouri."

The preparations began for the McGeorge family weeks in advance of Thatcher's May 8, 1996, arrival. They were approached by representatives from Westminster College in Fulton about housing the British diplomat. Two weeks before Lady Thatcher would arrive, Scotland Yard guards inspected the bed and breakfast to plan how to protect Thatcher.

"We said sure, but it was a little daunting," McGeorge said about the family's response to Westminster College's request to house the former prime minister. "We were just starting out."

When it came time to meet Thatcher, McGeorge said she was nervous. She and her husband wanted their children Arthur and Russel — twins, age 15 at the time — to meet Thatcher, who had twins of her own.

"They didn't realize it was such a big deal until they went to school and said Lady Thatcher was staying with us," McGeorge said about her sons' encounter with the British prime minister. "No one at school believed them."

McGeorge had the opportunity to see Thatcher the person as well as the politician, noting a stark contrast between the two roles.

"She was very gracious, she was very engaging," McGeorge said. "But when she had to be, she lived by certain principles that were just nonnegotiable."

Shawn Poore, a senior political science major at the time of Thatcher's visit, escorted the prime minister and her husband on a tour of the Winston Churchill Memorial and Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury.

"I was very impressed," Poore said of his time with Thatcher. "She was an absolute gem."

After being asked by Westminster College to show Thatcher around, he looked forward to meeting someone he studied extensively. He, too, noted Thatcher was personable and caring when she was not in the political realm.

"After our tour on Friday night, we were leaving and it was cold outside," Poore said. "Lady Thatcher turned to me and said 'Aren't you cold?' She was very personable."

The speech, though, showed the prime minister in a different light. 

"Forceful, very forceful," Poore said, reflecting on the speech Thatcher gave in Champ Auditorium. "She gave some forewarnings of things that might occur in the coming decades."

As for the "Iron Lady" persona that Thatcher was known for, Poore saw her as a multidimensional personality that couldn't be characterized that simply. 

"She had the best of both worlds going for her," he said. "Some will say that she is the 'Iron Lady.' I saw a more personable individual, a more caring individual."

The McGeorge family has made sure to commemorate the Thatcher visit, naming the room that housed her in their bed and breakfast the Margaret Thatcher Room. They say that "a lot" of people request the room, that history buffs enjoy the experience of staying in the same room as Thatcher, or at least in the same building.

In the almost-17 years since Thatcher's stay, McGeorge says that the British prime minister's visit has been tough to top.

"When you get checked out by the Scotland Yard and you have a big political speech, it doesn't get much better than that."

Supervising editor is Karen Miller.

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