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Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015

Death of Thatcher good time to recall legacy she left here

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Banner Graphic/ ERIC BERNSEE With then-DePauw University President Robert Bottoms at her side, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is surrounded by local police and Scotland Yard security as she makes her way across campus to speak at the Lilly Center on April 7, 1992.
When Margaret Thatcher succumbed to the effects of a stroke Monday morning at age 87, quite obviously she left behind a legacy of political power and steely resolve felt from The Falklands to the United Nations to Downton Abbey.

But while leaving her indelible mark on the international stage, the famed "Iron Lady" also left behind a legacy of sorts in Greencastle.

For Thatcher's death came just 24 hours removed from being 21 years to the exact date (April 7, 1992) she gave one of the most important lectures in the history of DePauw University.

It wasn't so much what she said that day as it was what her very appearance and the public and media response has meant in the aftermath.

Her arrival locally -- and who could forget Steve Jones' Greencastle Wash 'n' Fill welcome to town: "Hey, Maggie, wash your Jag?" -- forever solidified the Timothy and Sharon Ubben Lecture Series as a major event at DePauw. Something to circle on your calendar. Something not to be missed, whether you were a DPU grad or a tried-and-true townie.

Certainly there were Ubben Lectures before Margaret Thatcher took the podium that day in front of 4,100 interested listeners inside the Lilly Center. In fact, she was the 10th such speaker for whom the Ubbens opened their wallet and DePauw opened its arms (although her then-rumored $50,000 appearance fee certainly dwarfed any honorariums the initial nine lecturers had received).

And those nine were all fine men and women of note. People outstanding in their fields and worthy of lecturing to university audiences from Princeton to Pepperdine.

But most of them certainly fell short of household name status. Shy of the charisma and energy needed to motivate us to skip "American Idol" or "Dancing With the Stars" or OK, "Duck Dynasty" even, to have our minds broadened and intellect tickled in person.

For example, Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm was the first to join the Ubben flock, opening the DPU lecture series with limited fanfare on Nov. 15, 1986.

In succession came philosopher and author Allan Bloom, Mary Frances Berry, Zbigniew Brzezinski, William Bennett (the first of three appearances), Elie Wiesel, Lester Thurow, Willy Brandt and David R. Brower.

Thatcher's speech, however, put the Ubben series on the map, soliciting coverage from Indy to India and thrusting DePauw's name into news stories from Louisville to Liverpool and back again.

And since her appearance, the series has never looked back. Hence, you might say at DePauw, nothing says lovin' like something from the Ubbens.

Eight months after Thatcher spoke, DePauw was hosting Jesse Jackson, and the way had been smoothly paved for the succession of big names that has followed over the past 20 years.

By 1994, the Ubben series was bringing in multiple big-time speakers with George Will, Ken Burns, Gen. Colin Powell and Bob Woodward (with writing pal Carl Bernstein following in February 2013) all appearing within the same calendar year. At most places, that's a speaker schedule to brag about for a decade.

Then 1995 brought astronaut Jim Lovell (just as the film "Apollo 13" was reviving interest in the story of his ill-fated lunar flight). The following year first lady Barbara Bush, Ross Perot and Shimon Peres put the focus back on international politics.

In succeeding years the menu has included personalities such as Bill Bradley, Sam Donaldson, John Major (yet another former British prime minister), Harry Belafonte, Mike Krzyzewski, Ben and Jerry, Spike Lee, Peyton Manning, Mikhail Gorbachev, Tony Blair, Jane Pauley, President Bill Clinton and, still to come on April 17, Jane Goodall. (And before you get all crazy on me, yes, sitting U.S. Vice President Dan Quayle spoke at his alma mater in 1990 but it was not as an Ubben Lecture).

Thatcher's appearance here also holds a special memory for us, even though yours truly chose the short straw and skipped the actual lecture to man the Banner Graphic fort (remember, in those days we were an afternoon paper and Maggie was speaking at 11 a.m., as I recall).

As luck would have it, however, I stumbled into an interesting sidebar story involving a London Times correspondent who connived to cover the speech (taking place two days before the national election in Great Britain) when foreign media members had been banned from the Greencastle event by Thatcher's contract.

Martin Fletcher, whose name still comes up to this day when international stories dominate the news, was then a Washington-based political reporter for the London Times. Not only did he sneak into the Thatcher lecture but he filed his story from the Banner Graphic office that day, working right alongside the rest of our staff.

At the time, you didn't need Sherlock Holmes to deduce that any disparaging comments Thatcher might have made in little, old Greencastle might end up swaying British voters to help unseat her successor, the aforementioned John Major. That's why her people worked so hard to keep the British press at bay.

So unable to gain press credentials through proper channels, Fletcher pulled off a little cloak-and-dagger gambit of his own, connecting with a student who agreed to sell his free ticket to the speech. They met in the parking lot of the Greencastle KFC where Fletcher exchanged dollars for ducat and quietly made his way into the Lilly Center as a member of the general public.

He even dressed down for the occasion, donning denim shirt with sleeves rolled to the elbow, blue jeans and leather jacket with a baseball cap he bought at the Indianapolis airport pulled down to hide his face.

Or as he wrote in the London Times that day, "On this occasion, an impoverished student was only too happy to hand over his ticket, and in I slipped, disguised by upturned collar and newly-acquired ball cap, a recorder hidden up my sleeve, and positively trembling with anticipation."

However, despite the banning of foreign press and all of Scotland Yard's maneuvering to keep what Thatcher might say from leaking back to Britain, the irony that day was she actually voiced support for Major.

"The only problem," Fletcher noted, "was she did so nearly 4,000 miles from England, after having made strenuous efforts to ensure the British press did not hear her."

In her Ubben Lecture, Thatcher declared, "We defeated Communism without having to sacrifice great life -- it crumbled. After the victory against Germany and Japan we spent a lot of money, a lot of effort, on teaching them democracy on helping them to build up their industries ... After Communism crumbled it hadn't cost us a life, it hadn't cost us any resources, and I feel very strongly indeed that we should help them the more because we didn't have to make sacrifices ourselves."

She told the Neal Fieldhouse crowd, "It was for me a great honor to be asked to come and address people of this very famous university, which has a reputation for excellence, because excellence is the only standard worth striving for. And its achievement applauds not only those who reach it, but it pulls up standards everywhere else."

That, too, is a legacy worth remembering.

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As always, a nice op-ed piece.

It's this type of thing that keeps Greencastle on the map.

Thanks for reminding us of this important moment in our local history. :)

-- Posted by the_bugler on Wed, Apr 10, 2013, at 6:08 AM

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