Central View: Denis Thatcher and the grocer’s daughter
Ryan Summerlin April 16, 2013
The late British Prime Minister Baroness Margaret Thatcher is being praised for her revitalization of Britain’s economy, for curbing trade-union excesses, and for re-establishing Great Britain as a world power. She made it possible for more than a million families to buy, instead of rent, their rundown government housing, which, due to pride-of-ownership, they converted from dilapidated to decent. Under Thatcher, individual incomes rose by over 80-percent. Pay for women rose to record levels and has remained so.
She rose from selling vegetables in her father’s grocery store, to break the “glass ceiling” that inhibited women in British politics. The cheeky Commoner irritated the rich aristocrats in her own political party — men whose high station in life was due to a spot of unskilled labor in the middle of the night. After winning an Oxford scholarship, she took honors in Chemistry. Her first of many female firsts.
But along with her Horatio Alger story, there’s a “My Fair Lady” story. She met and married her “Professor Higgins” in the form of Denis Thatcher, a leading figure in Britain’s plastics and paint industry and already a self-made millionaire. But, instead of teaching his pupil upper-class diction, Denis paid her way through law school. Along the way to becoming a barrister, Margaret, the Commoner, was also working her way up the ranks within the male-dominated, aristocratic Conservative Party.
Meanwhile Justin Dart, the CEO of America’s Dart-Kraft Industries (think Tupperware™) and Denis Thatcher (think plastics) became close friends. When Dart learned Margaret was both a chemist and a lawyer, the future Prime Minister became his British Patent Law barrister. When in London, Justin Dart was always the Thatcher’s house guest.
One day, Denis came home excited from hearing a speech by then former California Governor Ronald Reagan. Houseguest Justin Dart pops up and says:”I’m one of Reagan’s five-closest political advisers. I’ll arrange for Ronnie to meet Margaret.”
At the time they met, Margaret was a Member of Parliament and the leader of the then out-of-power Conservative Party. When they met in her parliamentary office, it was conservative political love at first sight. Thus it was that the son of an alcoholic shoe salesman met the daughter of a man who owned a corner grocery store. And so it was that a Pope from Poland (of all places), Margaret Thatcher, and Ronald Reagan, would team up to end the Cold War on terms favorable to the western democracies and collapse what President Reagan called: the “evil empire.”
More good news: Any male who has the honesty to do so can take part in this grand history by joining a club that has no annual dues, no annual meetings, and has only one requirement: You must admit that you married a woman who is smarter than you are: It is called: “The Denis Thatcher Society.” (This columnist is a charter member.)
While Denis was shy, Margaret was outspoken. At the Williamsburg, Virginia, Big 7 Summit in 1983, President Reagan started to introduce Prime Minister Thatcher by saying, “Margaret, if your predecessors had been a bit more clever…” But the “Iron Lady” stole his punch line by saying, “Yes, Ronnie, I know. I would be hosting this Summit instead of you.”