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Margaret Thatcher adviser speaks in Gainesville

A friend and adviser of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher spoke in Gainesville Monday, the day Thatcher died.

John O’Sullivan, who was one of Thatcher’s special advisers and speechwriters, said an argument about education vouchers started his 40-year friendship with Thatcher.

“What we didn’t know was that Mrs. Thatcher loved people who argued with her,” O’Sullivan said before the speech.

He spoke at the Paramount Hotel in Gainesville Monday afternoon. He was in town to discuss international radio with the Florida Free Speech Forum, but due to timing, he discussed Margaret Thatcher, said the Program Director Paul Hargrave before the speech.

Thatcher died Monday at the age of 87 of a stroke, according to the New York Times.

Thatcher was the only woman to become prime minister. She served from 1979 to 1990.

O’Sullivan met her in 1972 at a lunch. He was a journalist in the House of Commons. She was the education minister.

O’Sullivan said he was the only person in the room who was sympathetic toward her political views, yet he was the one who argued with her.

In 1986, she asked him to become a special adviser. He worked with her until she left office. He later helped write her memoirs.

Before his speech, O’Sullivan said everyone who worked for her liked her. He said she never took holidays but insisted that those who worked for her take them.

“Most people kiss upward and kick downward,” he said. “But she would kiss downward and kick upward.”

He recalled once when Thatcher met with a foreign minister at her residence and a server spilled soup on the guest. O’Sullivan said Thatcher comforted the waitress.

He said she would be known for restoring Britain’s economy. He said when Thatcher took office, the country was “rundown” and suffering from labor strikes. He said in Thatcher’s 10 years,  Britain's economy became one of the largest in the world. According to the International Monetary Fund, Britain was the fifth-largest economy by GDP in 1980, and when Thatcher left office in 1990, it was the sixth largest.

O’Sullivan also said she would be remembered for introducing President Ronald Reagan to Mikhail Gorbachev, the president of the Soviet Union. O’Sullivan said she helped end the Cold War.

“She was such a remarkable figure,” O’Sullivan said.

He said she and Reagan had similar economic ideas. When she came to the United States after he was elected, O’Sullivan said Reagan’s staff advised him not to speak with her. They said her “Thatchernomics” ideology was unsuccessful. Reagan met with her anyway.

O’Sullivan said both Thatcher and Reagan decided to stick with their ideas and Thatcher said they would be “home safe and soon enough.”

Her policies got British inflation under control, O’Sullivan said.

One person at the event asked if the growth in British economy could be due to technological growth.

O’Sullivan said changes in information technology could be a benefit, but it was Thatcher’s privatization of company’s and encouragement of entrepreneurs that created economic stability.

Although her title the “Iron Lady” was given to her in a Russian newspaper and meant to be ironic, O’Sullivan said it was accurate.

“If you didn’t do the work, she let you know it,” he said in an interview.

Samantha is a reporter for WUFT News who may be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news