By Jill Lawless
The Associated Press
LONDON - He called her "the best man in England." She once said he was "the second-most important man in my life."
Ronald Reagan was president for eight of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's 11 years in office. She was the first foreign leader to visit him after his inauguration in 1981, and their strong rapport helped transform the world.
"Ronald Reagan had a higher claim than any other leader to have won the Cold War for liberty and he did it without a shot being fired," Thatcher said Saturday, mourning "one of my closest political and dearest personal friends.
"To have achieved so much against so many odds and with such humor and humanity made Ronald Reagan a truly great American hero," Thatcher added.
Both were conviction politicians, united in certainty about their anti-Communist, free-market views.
Reagan, Thatcher once wrote approvingly, "did not suffer from the dismal plague of doubts which has assailed so many politicians in our times and which has rendered them incapable of clear decisions."
Their personal and political rapport helped their neo-conservative outlook triumph around the world during the 1980s as the Soviet Union crumbled.
In her memoir The Downing Street Years, Thatcher recalled their first meeting in 1975, when she was leader of the Opposition and he was governor of California. She was won over by Reagan's "warmth, charm and complete lack of affectation - qualities which never altered in the years of leadership which lay ahead.
"Above all, I knew that I was talking to someone who instinctively felt and thought as I did," she added.
Thatcher biographer Hugo Young called their relationship "the most enduring personal alliance in the Western world throughout the 1980s."
Thatcher, Young noted in his biography One of Us, "was a kind of Baptist to Reagan's Messiah."
Together, they boosted military spending, won the Cold War and championed low-tax, low-regulation economies.
The relationship flourished despite the leaders' differences. She was a workaholic who immersed herself in the details of policy and slept less than six hours a night; he was laid-back, concerned with the big picture but happy to delegate responsibility for the details.
They had disagreements, notably over her refusal to negotiate with Argentina during the 1982 Falkland Islands war and over the U.S. invasion of Grenada a year later.
But their deep friendship endured, even after both left office. In 1999, Thatcher said she was sad she could no longer share talks with the Alzheimer's-afflicted former president.
Thatcher is now 78, and frail after a series of small strokes. She rarely appears in public.
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