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Mar­garet Thatcher, the first woman prime min­ister of the United Kingdom, died Monday after suf­fering a stroke at the age of 87. Thatcher, a feisty, dig­nified woman known for her unapolo­getic defense of freedom and free-markets, revived a lan­guishing British economy and society in the mid-1980s. She also had a special rela­tionship with Hillsdale College, home to the only statue of the Iron Lady in North America.

“Hillsdale College sym­bolizes every­thing that is good and true in America,” Thatcher wrote in a 2008 letter to the college. “You uphold the prin­ciples and cherish the values which have made your country a beacon of hope.”

“She was a friend of the college, and admired it very much,” College Pres­ident Larry P. Arnn said. “She was also a friend of limited and con­sti­tu­tional rule that Hillsdale was built to support. She was a great defender of that.”

Arnn first met Thatcher in 1981 through Winston Churchill’s biog­rapher Sir Martin Gilbert. He visited Thatcher roughly a dozen times since then, some­times with his wife, Penny.

During Britain’s infamous Winter of Dis­content in 1979 as Thatcher came to power, the Arnns were living in England. Arnn recalls “watching her do the marvels that she did,” and said, “It was better than watching sports.”

But long before Arnn arrived on campus, Lady Thatcher visited Hillsdale College, deliv­ering the final speech of the 1994 CCA on Chris­tianity in the 20th century. She spoke about the moral foun­da­tions of the United States to an audience of 2,500 stu­dents, faculty, and com­munity members. An abridged version of her speech, in which she said, “The price of freedom is still, and always will be, eternal vig­i­lance,” appeared in a 1995 issue of Imprimis.

During that campus visit, she also visited ele­mentary stu­dents at the Hillsdale Academy. Anna Leutheuser Dunham ’10 was a 6‑year-old first grader at the Academy at the time, along with other future college alumni, including Jonathan Smith ’06 and Andrew Budd ’10. The stu­dents sang a song for her and pre­sented her with flowers. Thatcher spent a night at the Dow Center.

In 2001, Thatcher spoke at an off-campus Hillsdale event in Florida, donning a bright, immac­ulate gold suit that was typical of Thatcher’s out­spoken manner and style. Penny Arnn, meeting her for the first time, called her “stunning,” and said she was “elegant, kind, and gra­cious.”

Right before the speech, Thatcher pulled Larry Arnn aside and men­tioned that she was nervous. A stunned Arnn remembers replying, “Ma’am, it’s unthinkable to me that could be true.” Penny Arnn agreed, noting that “her force per­vaded this crowd of about 800 people.”

The “fearless, direct” Thatcher that Dr. Arnn remembers is con­sistent with her broader political legacy. She fought union bosses and Tory “wets” within her own party alike. Though the first woman to achieve her position of power, she forth­rightly dis­missed notions of shat­tered glass ceilings and female lib­er­ation.

“I owe nothing to Women’s Lib,” Thatcher said famously in a 1982 interview.

Claire Berlinski, author of “There is No Alter­native: Why Mar­garet Thatcher Matters,” and a speaker on the 2011 Hillsdale College cruise said, “She proved herself a rebuttal to several millennia’s worth of assump­tions about women, power, and women in power.”

“For women now aspiring to power, there is history before Thatcher and history after; no woman in pol­itics will ever escape the com­parison,” Berlinski said.

But her legacy tran­scends her title as first-woman prime min­ister. Thatcher stood against socialism and com­munism, unwa­vering in her com­mitment to pre­serve free society.

“Thatcher’s hatred of socialism was ide­o­logical, but it was also per­sonal: It was her country in decline,” Berlinski said.

In the days since her death, many have asked what America could learn from Thatcher’s states­manship. “The U.S. des­per­ately needs a Thatcher right now,” Pro­fessor of History Paul Rahe said. “She took a moribund political party and turned it into a force for the renewal of her country.”

“She is a great sign of hope,” Arnn said.

To honor her con­tri­bu­tions, the college com­mis­sioned a statue of Thatcher as the third piece in its “Liberty Walk” series fea­turing founding fathers and other notable his­torical figures such as Winston Churchill. Sculptor Bruce Wolfe traveled to England to visit Thatcher for the project, which took him more than a year to com­plete. He visited her on a typ­i­cally rainy day in London and was greeted by a machine-gun armed guard at her door. Wolfe spent about an hour with Thatcher, mea­suring and pho­tographing her.

“I thought she was a sweet­heart,” Wolfe said. “She was such an elegant human being.” Wolfe returned to the United States with a pair of Thatcher’s iconic Fer­ragamo heels to ref­erence while he sculpted.

Thatcher planned to attend the statue ded­i­cation on campus in 2008, but was pre­vented by her health. She sent the college a letter expressing her appre­ci­ation and approval of the project. John O’Sullivan, former special adviser to Prime Min­ister Thatcher, delivered remarks on her behalf.

Larry and Penny Arnn last visited Thatcher in London in 2009. The group met at the Goring Hotel, one of her favorite places for lunch, where she was known and loved by the hotel staff. Over lunch she men­tioned her late husband, Denis Thatcher, a suc­cessful oil exec­utive.

Thatcher, famously devoted to her husband and their happy mar­riage, said of Denis that, “He was so lovely to come home to.”

On Monday morning, she went home to Denis forever.