Durgin recalls Margaret Thatcher's visit to Boulder
Silvia Pettem, for the Boulder Daily Camera
Posted: 08/20/2012 11:42:21 AM MDT
Updated: 08/20/2012 11:42:47 AM MDT
On August 3, 1990, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher -- aka the “iron lady” -- squeezed a 90-minute visit to Boulder on her first trip to Colorado. In her former civilian life, the 64-year-old Oxford-educated head of state had been a research chemist. She came to Boulder solely to tour the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
Both Mayor Leslie Durgin and Governor Roy Romer were at NCAR to greet her. “We shook hands,” said Durgin, in a recent interview, “but no one exchanged in small talk.”
Thatcher and her husband, Denis, were driven between Broomfield’s Jefferson County Airport (now the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport) and Boulder in a blue Lincoln Continental. Traffic was stopped along the route of the motorcade, and residents waved both American flags and Union Jacks.
When one woman was asked, at the time, by a reporter, why she sat at the side of the street for an hour awaiting a momentary glimpse of Thatcher, the woman said, “I just want to see somebody. I haven't seen anybody since Eisenhower.”
At the base of Table Mesa Drive, fans who admired Thatcher's then-recent environmentalist leanings sipped tea and waved Earth flags. Others shouted obscenities and held signs that read, “Piss Off Maggie,” while protesting Britain’s dumping of nuclear waste into the Irish sea.
Thatcher’s entourage of 26 British reporters and photographers were joined by 55 others from the Denver area. All scrambled to take photos as the honored guests stepped out of the chauffeur-driven car. A Camera editorial described Thatcher as a “a tough, determined, and invaluable ally.”
Clutching a black purse under her arm, Thatcher was well-coiffed and wore a black-and-white checked suit. She and her husband were politely greeted by the applause of 250 NCAR employees.
“During the walk-through, the people at NCAR told the governor and I that we were not allowed to say anything,” Durgin recalled. “They told us that Mrs. Thatcher is a scientist, and this would be a scientific briefing. I didn't understand a word.”
In addition to an officer in the motorcade, the Boulder Police Department had snipers on the building and bomb-sniffing dogs checking out the hallways. SWAT team officers wandered the grounds, diverting some unsuspecting hikers. The only breach of security was one deer that managed to slip through the perimeter.
After returning to Broomfield, the Thatchers boarded a Black Hawk helicopter and flew to Colorado Springs. There, they visited the facility of the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (now the Missile Defense Agency), and also had a secret briefing at the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). Then they headed off to a symposium at the Aspen Institute, in Aspen, where Margaret Thatcher accepted an award that recognized outstanding contributions by world leaders.
According to Durgin, Thatcher was very reserved and was wholly within her role as head of state. The only light moment was when Denis Thatcher was missing, in the men's room, and Margaret Thatcher said, “Oh what happened to that man? I am always losing him.”
Silvia Pettem and Carol Taylor write on history for the Daily Camera, alternating weeks. Email Silvia firstname.lastname@example.org, Carol at email@example.com, or write to the Daily Camera, 5450 Western Ave., Boulder 80301-2709.