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April 8th, 2013
05:32 PM ET

Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan: The odd couple

She was known as England's "Iron Lady," a nickname she earned through her indomitable will, and her uncompromising style. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is dead at the age of 87, suffering a stroke after years of ailing health.

Thatcher's policies came to define life in Great Britain in the 1980's. She found a kindred spirit in former President Ronald Reagan. Together, they became the architects of a golden age of conservatism.

He called her the "best man in England." She called him "the second-most important man in my life." The former movie star and the grocer's daughter were the odd couple who formed one of the most important political marriages of the 20th century.

"Mr. President, Henry David Thoreau once said, it takes two to speak the truth. One to speak and another to hear. Well sometimes one of us has spoken and sometimes the other. But together, Mr. President, I like to think that we have spoke the truth," Thatcher said in 1981, when she was President Reagan's first foreign guest to the White House.

But the mutual admiration began long before that, when Thatcher's late husband, Denis Thatcher, caught a speech by Reagan years before. In 1975, Thatcher welcomed Reagan to London after she was elected as head of the Conservative Party.

In 1980, when Reagan was picking his vice presidential nominee, he wrote in a letter to a supporter, "I have thought about the idea of a woman for vice president but have to tell you polls we've taken indicate ... that the people aren't quite ready for that. I don't understand it because I'm a big fan of Margaret Thatcher."

"She has been a staunch ally, my political soul mate, a great visionary, and a dear, dear friend," Reagan said of Thatcher in 1994.

Both were resolute anti-communists who rose to power in the heart of the cold war. Both were beacons of the right whose economic policies cause division even today. What Americans called "Reaganomics" - fewer regulations, small government, lower taxes - was virtually synonymous with another word among the Brits - "Thatcherism."

"It was closer ideologically and warmer personally than any relationship between any other British Prime Minister, and any other American president," said Geoffrey Smith, author of 'Thatcher & Reagan.'

Smith recalls that it was Thatcher who convinced Reagan that Mikhail Ggorbachev was a Soviet leader they could finally "do business" with.

"She phoned Reagan and said, 'I have just met this new leader of the Soviet Union. He is unlike any other leader of the Soviet Union,'" said Smith.

Their friendship was not without some bumps. Thatcher was taken aback when Reagan tried to make a nuclear disarmament deal with Gorbachev at Rejkyavik, Iceland, in 1986.

Thatcher ended up sitting next to Gorbachev at Reagan's funeral in 2004, by then suffering serious health problems of her own. But she would not be denied the chance to eulogize her friend and counterpart, on videotape.

"We have lost a great president, a great American and a great man, and I have lost a dear friend," Thatcher said in a video statement.

Coincidentally, Wikileaks released 1.7 million records from the 1970's today. Among them is a purported 1975 cable from the U.S. State Department that describes Margaret Thatcher in this way: "She has a quick, if not profound, mind and works hard to master the most complicated brief ... She fights her corner with skill and toughness, but can be flexible when pressed. In dealing with the media or with subordinates, she tends to be crisp and a trifle patronizing ... With colleagues, she is honest and straight-forward, if not excessively considerate of their vanities."

When asked about it today, the state department declined to authenticate that cable.

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