April 8, 2013

Margaret Thatcher, 'Iron Lady,' dead at 87

The Associated Press

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In this June 9, 1983, photo, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher leaves a London polling station with her husband, Dennis, after casting their votes in the general election.

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In this Feb. 20, 1985, photo, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher meets with her friend and political ally President Ronald Reagan during a visit to the White House in Washington.

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Milestones in the life of Margaret Thatcher

Oct. 13, 1925: Born at Grantham, central England.

June 1947: Graduates from Oxford with a chemistry degree.

Dec. 13, 1951: Marries Denis Thatcher, a wealthy oil executive.

Aug. 15, 1953: Gives birth to twins, Mark and Carol.

June 1, 1954:
Qualifies as a lawyer.

Oct. 8, 1959: Elected to Parliament.

June 20, 1970: Becomes education secretary.

Feb. 11, 1975: Elected leader of the Conservative Party.

May 3, 1979: Wins national elections, becomes prime minister.

June 9, 1983: Wins second term.

June 11, 1987: Wins third term.

Jan. 3, 1988: Becomes Britain's longest continuously serving prime minister of 20th century.

Nov. 22, 1990: Announces resignation after party revolt.

Nov. 28, 1990: John Major succeeds her as prime minister.

June 26, 1992:
Becomes Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven, a member of the unelected House of Lords with a lifetime title.

March 22, 2002: Ends public speaking after suffering a series of small strokes.

June 26, 2003:
Her husband, Sir Denis Thatcher, dies.

April 8, 2013: Dies of stroke.

She formed a deep attachment to the man she called "Ronnie" — some spoke of it as a schoolgirl crush. Still, she would not back down when she disagreed with him on important matters, even though the United States was the richer and vastly stronger partner in the so-called "special relationship."

Thatcher was at her brashest when Britain was challenged. When Argentina's military junta seized the remote Falklands Islands from Britain in 1982, she did not hesitate, even though her senior military advisers said it might not be feasible to reclaim the islands.

She simply would not allow Britain to be pushed around, particularly by military dictators, said Ingham, who recalls the Falklands War as the tensest period of Thatcher's three terms in power. When diplomacy failed, she dispatched a military task force that accomplished her goal, despite the naysayers.

"That required enormous leadership," Ingham said. "This was a formidable undertaking, this was a risk with a capital R-I-S-K, and she demonstrated her leadership by saying she would give the military their marching orders and let them get on with it."

In deciding on war, Thatcher overruled Foreign Office specialists who warned her about the dangers of striking back. She was infuriated by warnings about the dangers to British citizens in Argentina and the difficulty of getting support from the U.N. Security Council.

"When you are at war you cannot allow the difficulties to dominate your thinking: you have to set out with an iron will to overcome them," she said in her memoir, "Downing Street Years."

"And anyway what was the alternative? That a common or garden dictator should rule over the queen's subjects and prevail by fraud and violence? Not while I was prime minister."

Thatcher's determination to reclaim the islands brought her into conflict with Reagan, who dispatched Secretary of State Alexander Haig on a shuttle mission to London and Buenos Aires to seek a peaceful solution, even as British warships approached the Falklands.

A private diary kept by U.S. diplomat Jim Rentschler captures Thatcher at this crisis point.

"And here's Maggie, appearing in a flower-decorated salon adjoining the small dining room (...) sipping orange juice and sherry," Rentschler wrote. "La Thatcher is really quite fetching in a dark velvet two-piece ensemble with grosgrain piping and a soft hairdo that heightens her blond English coloring."

But the niceties faded over the dinner table.

"High color is in her cheeks, a note of rising indignation in her voice, she leans across the polished table and flatly rejects what she calls the 'woolliness' of our secondstage formulation," Rentschler writes.

Needless to say, Haig's peace mission soon collapsed.

The relatively quick triumph of British forces revived Thatcher's political fortunes, which had been faltering along with the British economy. She won an overwhelming victory in 1983, tripling her majority in the House of Commons.

She trusted her gut instinct, famously concluding early on that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev represented a clear break in the Soviet tradition of autocratic rulers. She pronounced that the West could "do business" with him, a position that influenced Reagan's vital dealings with Gorbachev in the twilight of the Soviet era.

It was heady stuff for a woman who had little training in foreign affairs when she triumphed over a weak field of indecisive Conservative Party candidates to take over the party leadership in 1975 and ultimately run as the party's candidate for prime minister.

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Margaret Thatcher, shown here in a 1969 photo. For admirers, she was a savior who rescued Britain from ruin and laid the groundwork for an extraordinary economic renaissance. For critics, she was a heartless tyrant who ushered in an era of greed that kicked the weak into the streets and let the rich become filthy rich.

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