Memories of the Iron Lady

I first met Ron Stones in 1976, when it fell to me to meet his plane in San Antonio. This was before I held a role of any significance at camp, and I loved going to San Antonio because there was a Baskin-Robbins ice cream parlor there. Being the Bicentennial year, there were special flavors such as Concord Grape, Valley Forge Fudge, and Minute Man Mint. Ron went with me, and I had to serve as translator from English to English, or more specifically, help the Texas Drawl and the Proper British accents to understand each other.

Ron served as a Stewart counselor many summers, and taught in British schools around the world, most recently as headmaster of several. He worked in Bermuda, Italy, the Philippines, and Indonesia. And he has always kept in touch as a friend and former counselor. Here are his musings in regard to the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, as she was about to be laid to rest. I found it interesting and wanted to share. Jane—

“I am compelled to write something (and if I knew how to write a blog, I guess that is where this should go, but I don’t…) on the eve of the funeral of Baroness Thatcher… and really hope that the funeral progresses smoothly tomorrow.

Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher

“I am sad that the great tributes that are being paid to the Iron Lady were not paid when she was sufficiently compus mentus to understand and remember them – and no one had to say ‘I really like you’ just ‘Thank you for all your incredible efforts and diligence in leading the country in very difficult times in which you would never had been able to please everyone.’ I am even sadder at the death parties celebrating her passing away. Much of the world is looking at Britain in shock at such a thing.
“I had the great fortune to meet this lady who will go down in history. I knew it would be a controversial visitor that I pushed the British Ambassador for when I found out that the recently-retired Prime Minister would be making a private visit to Jakarta in 1992. I knew that there would be teachers and parents of students who would not approve, but how could I miss an opportunity like that to have our students interface with such a former leader when other students would just read about her in history books?
“We had an ambitious new school relocation and construction project to inaugurate, and although she did not have time in her schedule to visit the mud of the construction site in Bintaro – way out of Jakarta at that time – we could get her name and signature on a marble plaque on the inner city site and transfer it to the new school on completion of construction.
“After much hassle from me, the Ambassador agreed to ask her office for permission to include a visit to the school – but the trade-off was that school hours would have to be adjusted to accommodate her, and that I would have to host a garden party on the school field and invite the British community at large to have an opportunity to meet her. In my mind, a small price to pay, but I knew that both would go down like a lead brick with some teachers and parents.
“The visit was confirmed. When I announced the arrangements to teachers, there was a certain resistance to the idea. When I announced to parents, there was a reaction from a minority that they would keep their children at home that day.
“The Baroness agreed beforehand to be the subject of a Question Time with our Year Nine students – the oldest in the school at the time as we began to extend the age range. Students could design their own questions, and she would trust me to filter them, and she agreed to have the media in the same room during this part of the visit.
“On the day itself, she was in good form, and she loved the Question Time. Students came up with some great things to ask her, and she spoke just as she would have done in parliament. The crescendo was ‘Baroness Thatcher, what was the most difficult decision you had to make during your tenure as Prime Minister?’
“Without a pause, she responded ‘When the Minister of Defence walked into my office one Thursday evening and informed me that the Argentinian fleet had set sail towards the Falklands, and he did not think it was just an exercise, the decisions I had to make in the following twenty-four hours were the most difficult in my tenure.’
“My reaction was one of wonder. These students were interfacing with a lady who had said ‘This country is at war.’ To me, that was worth several hundred history lessons.
“I had to occupy her while the school assembled in the Hall so that the whole school community could see and hear her. She told me how impressed she was with students’ questions, and she wanted to know more about the relocation project. She was in awe of our spending USD 27 million on a new school, but recognized it as a spend which would enable further British investment in Indonesia.
“She kindly agreed to address everyone in the Hall before fumbling for her glasses in order to read the plaque before she signed it. Just hearing her speak in person was a great experience for all.
“My duty was then to accompany her to the garden party and to lead her on the roped trail where the community had spread in order to meet her, shake hands, take photographs… I was able to introduce key people as we walked Of course, all the time I was holding my breath hoping that no one would abuse her, and the security forces are on hand and watching very closely.
“I feel so privileged to have hosted that visit and to have given our students particularly that experience. I received such a nice and warm letter after the visit, and though I know her secretary wrote it, Baroness Thatcher did sign it. And the signature matched that on the plaque which is now sitting on the wall in the British International School in Bintaro commemorating her visit and the inauguration of the relocation project.

“If you made it through to the end, thank you for reading.  I feel much better having written it down”.  Ron–

Ron Stones, OBE

Ron Stones, OBE

Ronald Stones OBE (Order of the British Empire)

About the Author

Jane Ragsdale

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Jane Ragsdale (Mrs. Dick Howell) is the director of Heart O’ the Hills. She was a Heart camper and counselor, and served as program director from 1978-87. She has been one of the owners since 1976, and director since 1988.

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