Margaret Thatcher’s visit to BYU in 1996 is among the remembrances of her global influence noted with the news that she died on Monday.
BYU rescheduled its graduation exercises that year to accommodate Thatcher’s visit. She spoke at a convocation ceremony and was awarded an honorary doctorate degree.
Thatcher, who was the United Kingdom’s longest serving prime minister and its only woman prime minister, spoke at a convocation ceremony for BYU students on March 5, 1996. At that time, she also received an honorary doctorate degree from BYU in public service.
The Deseret News reported that “LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley, attending the special convocation, said Thatcher’s speech ‘was so stirring and challenging, some might wish that she would run for the office of president of the United States.'”
Thatcher spoke on the need for moral foundations in order for any country to survive and the necessity of faith.
“Those Pilgrim fathers came with the faith that infused the whole nation,” Thatcher said. “Yours is the only nation founded on liberty. And you’re founded on liberty because of that faith.”
BYU’s president at the time of Thatcher’s visit, President Merrill J. Bateman, fondly remembers “The Iron Lady” and her visit to BYU and the time he was able to meet with her.
“Throughout the ceremony and the day, she exhibited a graciousness and refinement in her demeanor that reflected her inner person as well as her experience in public life,” Bateman said in an email. “She was stately, but without airs. There was no evidence of pride and her gentleness was not quite what I expected from the “Iron Lady.” In particular, it was interesting to note how sensitive she was regarding her husband. On a number of occasions she checked to make sure he was comfortable and enjoying the day.”
Bateman also recalled her sense of humor and what an honor it was for BYU to have “one of the two most influential leaders in the world during the previous decade” speak to its students.
“What a great woman,” Bateman said. “What a great leader. What a good friend. I appreciate the opportunity of meeting her in person and coming to know of her greatness.”
Thatcher’s health had been in decline the past several years. She had the first of several strokes in 2002. She died Monday morning following another stroke at the Ritz Hotel in London at the age of 87.