LONDON — On a gray London morning, thousands lined the route of the funeral cortege for British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a great majority of whom came to pay respects — and many of whom had travelled long distances to say their farewells.
“We’ve come here to say goodbye to a great lady and a great leader,” said Joseph Bates, whose family stood among the throngs jostling on sidewalks.
“I had the privilege to meet her in ’83, and I was a huge supporter of hers," said Michael Varney, a British national who lives abroad and flew in from Austria to be in attendance. "She did immense and wonderful things for this country and I felt as though I had to be here.”
In the days since Thatcher’s death, however, debate has raged over her legacy for Britain and for the world. While Wednesday's London crowds were mostly respectful — and fears of disruptive protests did not materialize — not all voices in the crowd were admiring.
“I’m 60 years old and I lived through the Thatcher period," said Alan Sutton. "I think she was a racist and a bigot and she divided the country and threw hundreds of thousands of people out of work and created a situation of more and more conflict.”
Sutton's criticism, overheard by others in the crowd, prompted passionate retorts.
“I think they should stay quiet the whole time," said Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt, who was standing nearby. "I don’t think they should have anything to say. She did a great deal for the country and even if you think she didn’t, she sweated blood for this country.”
As the coffin passed by, some took photos and videos to remember the event. Others looked on or bowed their heads.
Robin, an American citizen who lives in London, says Thatcher’s legacy will last.
“I think there’s no question she’s left an impression on history, but obviously people have very strong views on both sides of the political spectrum with respect to her legacy. But I still felt it was important to be here historically.”
As the coffin passed from view towards St. Paul’s Cathedral, a ripple of applause spread through the crowd, among those who had come to say goodbye to Britain’s first and only female prime minister and recall the impact she had on their lives and on the world.