LONDON Lady Margaret Thatcher has spoken of her sadness at the deterioration of her friend Ronald Reagan as a result of Alzheimer’s disease.
The former prime minister talked of the fortitude shown by the former American president, her strongest international ally during her time in power, and his wife, Nancy, in the face of the degenerative illness.
She said that he no longer recognizes people, and that his former skills as “the great communicator” have been stripped away by illness.
“Ronnie wouldn’t know me now if I went to see him,” she said. “He has not been recognizing people for quite a long time. This makes it very hard for Nancy.
“I think she is being absolutely marvelous. She has a lot of friends in California, and that’s what enables you to stand up: that you have friends who know and understand and who are ready to give a hand or help raise money for more research into this, as they do.”
In Britain, some of the research is being undertaken by the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, begun in 1993.
As a former research scientist associated with genetics, Mrs. Thatcher has taken a keen interest in the charity. She praised the eight young students being funded by it and shares their optimism that an effective therapy or cure will be found.
“With the intensity of the work being done, there is hope that the disease will be detected earlier or might even be prevented,” she said.
“Many of us know elderly people who have suffered from what might have been Alzheimer’s. We are all going to live longer, therefore there are going to be more Alzheimer’s sufferers.
“We have to put the maximum amount of money and effort into research now. The time is now, and most certainly I would urge your readers to support this appeal.”
Mrs. Thatcher said that President Reagan, 90, had tried to raise awareness of the disease in a final letter to the American people before his condition took him into what he described as “the sunset of my life.”
“When some years after he left office he was told by his doctor that he was going to get Alzheimer’s, he and Nancy had to decide whether to keep it to themselves or make it known,” she said.
The response from this remarkable man, she added, was truly courageous: His handwritten letter was dated Nov. 5, 1994, and addressed to “My fellow Americans.”
Mrs. Thatcher’s memories of the former president, which predate his two terms in the White House, from 1981 to 1989, demonstrate a real admiration for his talents. During her time in Downing Street (1979-90), she extolled the “special relationship” between Britain and America. The warm friendship between her and the Reagans has since kept her in touch with the progress of the former president’s disease.
“I’ve known Ronnie for many years. I remember he first came over here when he had been governor of California,” she said.
“He spoke at an Institute of Directors meeting, and I don’t think they’d ever heard anyone quite like him. He was a very powerful speaker, but quiet in many ways, an absolute master of language.
“He was speaking then about freedom and the defense of freedom. He ended by taking the supposition that freedom had been lost, or would be lost, and that a child might say to you: ‘Where were you, daddy, or grandpa, when freedom was lost, and what did you do to ensure that it lived?’
“That was the way Ronnie had of not just going to the heart of the matter but to the heart of the person either listening or learning. So whether it was some of the terrible communism that we had at that time, or the diseases we have to fight, he always went to the heart of the matter.
“With the diseases, he thought that by talking about them he would make them better known and by so doing get more money for research.”