Thatcher and Helms forged long friendship

mcornatzer@newsobserver.com@newsobserver.comApril 8, 2013 

Jesse Helms and Maggie Thatcher formed their own mutual admiration society.

Helms, who represented North Carolina in the U.S. Senate for 30 years, once called her “the greatest prime minister in Great Britain since Winston Churchill.”

The former British prime minister, for her part, put Helms up there with the late President Ronald Reagan and herself when it came to upholding a principled, conservative approach to government.

The two conservatives first met during President Jimmy Carter’s administration during the 1970s, before Thatcher became prime minister, said John Dodd, president of the Jesse Helms Center in Wingate.

Helms befriended Thatcher on that visit, providing office space for her while she was in Washington.

He remembered the encounter in his autobiography, calling her an “indomitable woman” and writing: “From the beginning I knew she would be a leader like few the world has seen.”

Their friendship lasted until his death in 2008.

“They shared the same values,” Dodd said, particularly when it came to what should be done about ending the Cold War.

But conservative values were not all the two had in common, Dodd said.

“They both came from very humble backgrounds; they were not full of themselves at all,” he said. “They had a good understanding and appreciation of the common man and what the common man’s goals were.”

Helms and his wife Dot visited Thatcher often in London, and Dodd said he talked to Dot Helms Monday morning about Thatcher’s death.

“She was very saddened,” he said. “They shared many good times and she considered her a friend.”

When the Jesse Helms Center, a think tank that is home to Helms’ papers, opened its current building in April 2001, Thatcher was there.

She stayed three days, presiding at the ribbon cutting, attending a fundraiser and giving a 45-minute speech during which she said: “ ‘Ideals’ and ‘resolve’ – two words for me that sum up the character of Jesse Helms.”

She also voiced support for several popular Helms initiatives at the time, including a missile-defense system and military aid for Taiwan. A News & Observer reporter covering the event wrote: “During her remarks, Thatcher and Helms changed admiring glances on several points of agreements.”

That same year, she wrote the foreword for Helms’ book “Empire of Liberty: A Sovereign America and Her Moral Mission.”

And when he retired from the Senate, in a letter that began “My dear Jesse,” Thatcher wrote:

“As one of your friends and admirers from overseas, I want to thank you for all you have done to ensure that freedom prevailed.”

News researcher Teresa Leonard contributed

Cornatzer: 919-829-4755

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