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Margaret Thatcher's visit to Elon remembered

Upon news of the former UK Prime Minister's death, faculty and staff recall Thatcher's 1995 visit to Elon.

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher walks near present-day Young Commons with Elon President Emeritus Fred Young (right) and three students.

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher died Monday, almost 18 years after a visit to Elon's campus.

Thatcher served as Britain's leader from 1979 to 1990. In 1995, she visited Elon to speak at Honors Convocation and to dedicate the Moseley Center.

"She was early in what is now Elon's history of bringing real, world-class speakers to campus," Nancy Midgette, a professor of history, said. "It was great to feel that we were an institution to which people of her stature would choose to come."

Gerry Francis, the university's executive vice president, echoed the thought that Thatcher's visit was a significant moment for Elon.

Margaret Thatcher walks across campus with Elon President Emeritus Fred Young in April of 1995. Koury Athletic Center is seen in the background.

"Margaret Thatcher brought world presence to Elon," Francis said. "I think that [she] marked the beginning of having great personalities and speakers on campus."

Francis, who was provost at the time, recalled Thatcher as "stoic, with charm and strength."

"It lit up the campus to have her here," said John Barnhill, assistant vice president for University Advancement. "It created an energy to have such an international figure walking the campus."

That isn't to say everyone who enjoyed Thatcher's visit is unaware of the controversial nature of her politics.

"Whether you agree with [a speaker] is not the issue," Midgette said. "The fact of the matter is, as any educational institution ought to, we appreciate the value of diversity of opinion."

Thatcher speaks at Honors Convocation in April 1995.

As Thatcher's legacy is debated, Francis says her visit is certainly worthy of reflection.

"Isn't that what a college campus is all about?" he said. "To hear from the people who actually created history and continue the debate of the pros and cons."

A photo gallery of Thatcher's April 1995 visit to campus is posted on the university's Facebook page. A plaque commemorating her dedication of the Moseley Center sits outside the facility's front door.

Philip Jones,
4/9/2013 11:20 AM