The bloke with the Iron Lady’s spade

Gympie’s Jumbo and Paula Patridge with their photo of Jumbo helping then English Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher during a tree planting in Canberra.
Gympie’s Jumbo and Paula Patridge with their photo of Jumbo helping then English Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher during a tree planting in Canberra. Craig Warhurst

WHILE the world was taking stock of the loss of one of its greatest leaders, Gympie man Jumbo Partridge was reminiscing about his time with the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, and the role her husband played in her leadership.

Mr Partridge first met the English Prime Minister in 1979. During her visit to Canberra, he helped her plant a tree.

She was fresh from an election win and he was working as the assistant administration officer at the British High Commission.

"It was a posh name for a dogsbody," Mr Partridge said.

His duties included arranging a hairdresser for Mrs Thatcher and organising for her to plant a tree.

His choice of hairdresser was vetoed and a blue spruce was selected as the tree to plant. The Department of Foreign Affairs sprayed a spade gold for the occasion.

Mr Partridge wasn't happy with the choice of spade and its garish paint job.

He bought a Spear and Jackson model with "Made in England" prominent on the handle.

He said Mrs Thatcher was very outspoken and "very able".

While planting the tree Mrs Thatcher asked for the sacking to come off the plant. Mr Partridge advised her the nurseryman recommended leaving the sacking on.

His opinion was dismissed and off came the sacking.

"Most big wigs are content with a symbolic spadeful; not Maggie - she was going to finish the job," Mr Partridge said.

He said to her he ought to tread the soil down.

"But you'll dirty your shoes," came the reply from Mrs Thatcher.

By this time Mr Partridge had become a little tired and replied, "Then I will have to clean them ".

The pair finished the job in silence.

That meeting in 1979 wasn't to be Mr Partridge's last encounter with Mrs Thatcher.

During the mid-80s Mr Partridge had risen to become an administration officer in the British Trade Commission in Hong Kong.

He had to organise various details for her visit to China to discuss the handing back of Hong Kong in 1997.

During this time Mr Partridge and his wife Paula were asked to a reception at Government House. The couple was introduced to Dennis Thatcher, the husband of the Prime Minister.

He asked if the couple had ever met Margaret. Mr Partridge replied by saying he had planted a tree with her in Canberra.

"I bet the bloody thing's dead, they always die," was the reply from Mr Thatcher.

"I have seen it, it's thriving although it's leaning to the left," Mr Partridge responded.

Mr Thatcher chortled and had another sip of his gin and tonic.

Mr Partridge is sure it was Mr Thatcher who guided his wife into politics.

"He was no fool," Mr Partridge said.

"He was a millionaire and his daddy didn't leave it to him.

"He made it himself... and hardened and tempered his wife into the Iron Lady.

"Perhaps his greatest success was in disguising himself as a harmless gin-swigging nonentity."

Mr Partridge and wife retired to Gympie 20 years ago to be close to their daughter who at the time was living in Imbil.

The couple love Australia and, in particular, Gympie.

"The people in Gympie are very kind," he said.

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