San Diegans saw different side to poised Margaret Thatcher

Thatcher made several trips to San Diego

SAN DIEGO - San Diegans are offering a rare glimpse into Margaret Thatcher, the woman known as the "Iron Lady."

Thatcher, Great Britain's first female prime minister, died from a stroke on Monday.

She made many trips to San Diego. In 1991, months after Thatcher was ousted from her decade-long tenure as England's prime minister, she visited Camp Pendleton. In the weeks prior, Marines had joined her own troops in driving Iraqi troops out of Kuwait.

"It's an honor and pleasure to be here, and bring you a message from Great Britain in thanking and congratulating you in your magnificent part in Desert Storm, which came to such a splendid conclusion," said Thatcher to a crowd full of Marines.

In the next six years, Thatcher would return to San Diego several more times, including a 1993 publicity tour for her memoir.  

That included a one-hour stop at Warwick's in La Jolla to sign books. She was accompanied by plenty of security. Her table was set up so that she was not visible from the entrance.

"I think she horrified her security detail," said Adrian Newell, who works at Warwick's and remembers the day vividly.

After the signing, Thatcher surprised everyone, including the hundreds pressed against the store's front door hoping to see her.

"As they were taking her through the back, she walked up to the windows to wave to everybody. Everybody was thrilled, but security wasn't so happy," said Newell.

One person not surprised by that toughness is Rick Collins, who served as a British Royal Marine for nine years.

In 1982, after taking part in Great Britain's successful recapture of the Falkland Islands from Argentina, Thatcher held a rousing reception for about 400 troops.

"She came and patted me on the shoulder," said Collins.

Thatcher was a polarizing force in England but she was known as a friend to the military, especially on that day.

"She likes her scotch and she had everybody laughing," said Collins. "She was very much one of the lads, as political leaders go. I think she should be remembered for being a strong woman in a man's world. Prime ministers come and go, but she left her mark."

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