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Former First Lady Nancy Reagan mourned the passing of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on Monday, calling her "a dear and trusted friend" whose close relationship with President Ronald Reagan helped bring about the collapse of the Soviet Union.
"The world has lost a true champion of freedom and democracy," Nancy Reagan said in a statement.
Thatcher, nicknamed "The Iron Lady" for her steely resolve during the 11 years that she served as prime minister, died Monday in London of a stroke. She was 87.
Reagan said Thatcher and President Reagan formed a strong, special bond as leaders of their respective countries "during one of the most difficult and pivotal periods in modern history," the statement said.
"Ronnie and Margaret were political soul mates, committed to freedom and resolved to end communism," Reagan said. "As prime minister, Margaret had the clear vision and strong determination to stand up for her beliefs at a time when so many were afraid to 'rock the boat.' As a result, she helped to bring about the collapse of the Soviet Union and the liberation of millions of people."
"The United States knew Margaret as a spirited courageous ally," Reagan said, "and the world owes her a debt of gratitude."
The description of President Reagan and Thatcher as "political soul mates" is a good way to describe their bond, said John Heubusch, executive director of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation in Simi Valley, Calif., just north of Los Angeles.
"I'd say they were two of the most important political soul mates of the 20th century, given their views and determination to end the cold war," Heubusch said. "If you think back at the times they were in office -- she in the late '70s and President Reagan in the very early '80s -- they forged a partnership at very difficult times for both counties.
"The U.S. economy and its world reputation were in disarray. Great Britain was going through a tremendous near depression. Yet they both had the same philosophies -- a conservative approach to the free market and the role of government."
Neither Ronald Reagan nor Thatcher had easy going their first few years in office, Heubusch said, "but they were both hugely determined to stick by their principles. And they did. And as a result, there was a very strong identification with each other."
Reagan and Thatcher kept in touch and saw each other on several occasions after Reagan left the White House in 1989, Heubusch said.
Though she largely withdrew from public events after a series of mini-strokes in 2002, Thatcher attended Reagan's funeral at the National Cathedral in Washington in 2004. At the service, a eulogy that Thatcher had taped several months earlier was played for the mourners in which she lauded Reagan as "a great president, a great American, and a great man."
Heubusch said he met Thatcher in 2011 while preparing for a year-long series of events celebrating Reagan's 100th birthday and the eventual placement of a statue of Reagan in front of the U.S. Embassy in London.
Thatcher was reportedly suffering from dementia. But, "what I saw at the time -- and this was an evening event -- I thought she could not have looked any better," Heubusch said. "She looked terrific. While I had heard that she had moments back then in which she may not be lucid, I found her to be more than lucid. I found her to be charming and gracious and on top of her game."
A small photo display in honor of Thatcher and a condolence book for visitors to sign is on display at the Reagan library.
(Contact reporter Michael Collins of Scripps Howard News Service at email@example.com
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com)