On March 11, 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev, 54, became General Secretary of the Communist Party of The Soviet Union. His ascension was hailed as the dawn of a new day for the hidebound superpower with leaders in the West salivating over the prospect of finally having someone in the Kremlin that they could, in Maggie Thatcher's words, "do business with".

Gorbachev energetically undertook the daunting task of trying to breath life into the corpse of the USSR initiating his programs of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) and letting it be known that the USSR was no longer intersted in playing the role of the cranky old uncle with all the guns in international relations.

A new kind of General Secretary: "Gorby" mingles with the people - 1985

To say that his 6 years as the big cheese atop the Kremlin wall were eventful would be an enormous understatement. He signed agreements that ultimately lead to huge reductions in the number of nuclear weapons held by the US and USSR, he relaxed state oversight of Soviet media and encouraged criticism, he released political prisoners, began the process of opening up the Soviet economy to privately owned business and reduced the overall size of the Soviet military. Yet he also oversaw the catastrophe that was/is Chernobyl, tried desperately to prevent Soviet satellite states from gaining their independence as the USSR began to crumble and was largely ineffective in trying to ram through meaningful economic reform. In the end his efforts would come back to haunt him in unexpected ways and he'd wind up losing power to Boris Yeltsin and overseeing the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In 1985 many saw his coming to power as a sign that significant change was on the horizon. Few, if any, could have predicted just how significant those changes (intended and unintended) would turn out to be.