LONDON -- England's bustling capital paused Wednesday to remember an important leader in its history.
Few would argue that Margaret Thatcher, who served as England's first female prime minister from 1979 to 1990, possessed great influence. She died April 8 at age 87.
Alice Prochaska, the principal at Oxford's Somerville College, which Mrs. Thatcher attended, was "deeply moved" by the funeral service at St. Paul's Cathedral, which she attended with two students.
"One personal reflection came when I saw the coffin draped with our national flag, surrounded by all the solemnity of the occasion, and I reflected that with all that there is to remember about Margaret Thatcher's record as a world-changing politician," Ms. Prochaska said. "She achieved this extraordinary pre-eminence against all the odds of an unprivileged background and the prejudices against women that prevailed in her generation."
Ms. Prochaska thought the hourlong service was "extremely well done, from start to finish."
"I was so impressed by Lady Thatcher's American granddaughter, Amanda, who did the first reading, from Ephesians. She performed it perfectly," Ms. Prochaska said. "[Bishop of London Richard Chartres] gave a very appropriate address, carefully attuned to the fact that Margaret Thatcher was one of the most controversial of politicians and would not have wished for a eulogy."
Bishop Chartres said in his sermon that "this, at Lady Thatcher's personal request, is a funeral service, not a memorial service with the customary eulogies. And at such a time, the parson should not aspire to the judgments which are proper to the politician. Instead, this is a place for ordinary human compassion of the kind that is reconciling. It is also the time for the simple truths which transcend political debate. And, above all, it is the place for hope."
He noted the courtesy and personal kindness that Mrs. Thatcher showed to those who worked for her, as well as her capacity to reach out to the young, and also to those who were not "important" in the world's eyes.
Bishop Chartres told the story of her answering in her own handwriting a letter from a young boy whose father had told him that "everyone does wrong things except for Jesus" and the boy didn't think that the prime minister could possibly have done bad things.
Mrs. Thatcher wrote to him "a very straightforward letter, which took the question seriously," he said.
"However good we try to be, we can never be as kind, gentle, and wise as Jesus," Mrs. Thatcher wrote. "There will be times when we do or say something we wish we hadn't done and we shall be sorry and try not to do it again."
Even the bishop was taken under the wing of Mrs. Thatcher's tutelage, when during a serious conversation at a city function she paused, took his wrist, and said very emphatically, "Don't touch the duck pate, bishop -- it's very fattening."
Those who came to pay their respects both before and after the church service far outnumbered protesters, many of whom seemed too young to have been alive when Mrs. Thatcher was in office.
Louis Court, 18, an unemployed London resident, held a protest sign outside the church that said "We remember: The miners, Falklands, Poll tax, Bobby Sands. Now bury Thatcherism."
He said he was demonstrating because "her legacy lives on in the policies of the current prime minister and the prime ministers since her," Mr. Court said. "Plus, I really like to shout."
Others outside the church were there to pay tribute to what they said were positive changes Mrs. Thatcher brought to the country.
"This country was a complete basket case when she took over," said Charles Bingham, 52, a retired banker. "The country was bankrupt. People like to say she wiped out manufacturing, but it was already wiped out."
Edyta Niemierzynska, 38, an archaeology graduate student, said her childhood in Communist Poland during Mrs. Thatcher's administration in London gave her a different perspective.
"I very much appreciate what she did [both for England and Poland]," said Ms. Niemierzynska, who after standing outside the church for several hours before and after the funeral, took a break at nearby Artigiano Cafe.
John Alvey, 70, a counterprotester outside the church, held a large banner that included a photo of Mrs. Thatcher and the message "You gave millions of us hope, freedom and ambition. Thank you. RIP Baroness Thatcher."
Mr. Alvey, a Conservative, is a former mayor of Wellington, near the Welsh border, and former councilman in Shropshire in which Wellington is located.
"She was a personal friend as well as a world leader," Mr. Alvey said. "She put the Great back into Britain."