I once had a drink with Margaret Thatcher… well maybe not completely with each other, but in the same bar and about 10 feet apart — I was near the fireplace and she was on the corner couch. It was the evening of Ronald Reagan’s funeral, and we were at what was then our “local watering hole,” the Bel Air Hotel Bar…she arrived without fanfare, and just with her friends — all seemingly close with the former President…with her were Lee Iacocca, Reagan’s children and two or three others, but the excitement for me on this day of sadness was in watching no one else, but the always well-coifed, Maggie Thatcher.
And while she clearly wasn’t always liked upon the worldwide stage, nor was she always socially correct, she did do something not many women could do — she consistently stood up for her principles, within a true man’s world — and certainly during an era when it wasn’t considered politically correct. Probably one of the attributes her dear friend Ronnie admired about her most.
I admit I’m not the end-all when it comes to the world of politics or even Ms. Thatcher’s specific role within them, but I place her in the same neatly tied box with just a few of the key influential women that I consider have succeeded in a man’s world, and frankly, taken it by storm.
You see, I’m a car chick…maybe not the type that knows every bolt and chassis, but I’ve had my share of automotive pleasures in this rather incestuous industry. And I can honestly say I’ve loved every car I’ve ever represented and even driven, from the days of the Mitsubishi original home-grown Eclipse and the sexy 3000GT to Maseratis and Ferraris (both on- and off the tracks), and especially boutique brands like the Porsche 911s, restored and reimagined by Singer Vehicle Design. But what I love more than the cars, and even the great experiences, are the relationships I’ve gained and grown through the decades — and specifically, those relationships with the women that have made their marks by enjoying every moment of their trade and sharing it with the world.
Entering the car industry on the PR side when I was in my early 20s, I knew nothing more than the names of the cars on the road…so when Automobile magazine was thrown on my desk and I was told to read it, I found what was to me, the most inspiring and thought provoking of all its monthly columns — “Vile Gossip” — by Jean Lindamood, now Jennings. It was the last page in the book, but every month it became the first page I opened, and I learned more about the industry through her wild tales than I could have learned getting a bachelors degree in the auto industry. Because what each one of her stories — which continue through today – told me, was that while her industry knowledge did include the techs and specs and more than I could ever muster, the heart and soul of what she did was founded on the relationships she created and built within the industry, fostering every great experience which transpired.
Because Jean always stood up for her principles she became a respected states-woman in this land of men — and through the years she probably drove cars faster, smoked more cigars, and drank till she dropped, with more global automotive CEOs than any of the guys around her — and because she was still a woman, she could smile and get away with it all… each and every column she wrote, proved how beloved, yet more knowledgeable, she became. She may have started in her coveralls as a taxi driver when she first met David E., but she emerged as an automotive goddess whose Kentucky Derby style hat collection and love for dogs is now incorporated into her overall car persona.
Jean taught me and my auto PR gal pals performance driving during a “women and cars” day on the parking lot of the old Lion Country Safari…it was the days of the NSX and the very first Miata, and we became fast friends over the adage “never lift” when going through a turn. I revered her then, and I revere her now — only more than two decades later we’ve remained friends that can talk more than cars — yet its her unrelenting ability to be honest, and knack of fostering those relationships that continue to earn her my respect.
That same honest trademark holds true for another legend that I proudly call my friend…she was a racecar driver long before Danica Patrick’s parents were probably a twinkle in their own parents’ eyes…and all the while, as she was professionally driving (and winning) in a ’61 Ferrari 250GT at Sebring or in a ’64 Ford Falcon for a class win at Monte Carlo, or even participating in the 1000-km race at the Nürburgring — she won the respect and hearts of the men around her and the women that wished they could be her.
Denise McCluggage is a rare gem whose journey has spanned the globe and probably the universe…and I’m sure it was her interest in cars and lack of fear that provided her a lifetime of passages through which mere mortals could only dream. Yes, she loves the industry, but I dare say, she loves the relationships she’s created and earned the respect of even more. Whether it was her “zen” for skiing, or her lifetime bond with Phil Hill and probably Luigi Chinetti (though she’ll never tell), I believe it’s her zest for life and her many, many relationships that are key to her success in all she’s ever tried to achieve. At 80-plus, Denise remains as youthful as her journalistic “new school” competition – with her own blogs, books, website and facebook page, she continues to turn our heads throughout this century.
Its women like Margaret, and Jean and Denise that give me hope that honesty remains the best virtue. And if we as women can drive our points and our miles, surpassing men along the way, so be it…we live in an age of possibilities, and its women like these that show us the way.
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