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 profited from the enormous crisis facing the Labour Party government led by Harold Wilson and later James Callaghan. Britain was near economic collapse, its currency propped up by the International Monetary Fund, and its once-defiant spirit seemingly broken.

The sagging Labour government had no parliamentary majority after 1977, and the next year it suffered through a "winter of discontent" with widespread strikes disrupting vital public services, including hospital care and even grave digging. The government's effort to hold the line on inflation led to chaos in the streets.

Britain seemed adrift, no longer a credible world power, falling from second- to third-tier status.

It was then, Thatcher wrote in her memoirs, that she came to the unshakable, almost mystical belief that only she could save Britain. She cited a deep "inner conviction" that this would be her role.

Events seemed to be moving her way when she led the Conservative Party to victory in 1979, with a commitment to reduce the state's role and champion private enterprise.

She was underestimated at first — by her own party, by the media, later by foreign adversaries. But they all soon learned to respect her. Thatcher's "Iron Lady" nickname was coined by Soviet journalists, a grudging testament to her ferocious will and determination.

Thatcher set about upending decades of liberal doctrine, successfully challenging Britain's welfare state and socialist traditions, in the process becoming the reviled bete noire of the country's left-wing intelligentsia.

She is perhaps best remembered for her hardline position during the pivotal strike in 1984 and 1985 when she faced down coal miners in an ultimately successful bid to break the power of Britain's unions. It was a reshaping of the British economic and political landscape that endures to this day.

It is for this that she is revered by free-market conservatives, who say the restructuring of the economy led to a boom that made London the rival of New York as a global financial center. The left demonized her as an implacably hostile union buster, with stone-cold indifference to the poor. But her economic philosophy eventually crossed party lines: Tony Blair led a revamped Labour Party to victory by adopting some of her ideas.

Thatcher was the West's most outspoken opponent of imposing economic sanctions on South Africa's minority government to end apartheid. She contended such sanctions cost jobs, including in Britain, hurt South Africa's black majority most and harden white resistance to change.

In 1986, Britain's Cabinet unanimously supported her resistance to such sanctions. As a result, protests ensued and many accused her of supporting the apartheid regime.

Margaret Hilda Roberts was born on Oct. 13, 1925. She learned the values of thrift, discipline and industry as the dutiful daughter of Alfred Roberts, a grocer and Methodist lay preacher who eventually became the mayor of Grantham, a modest-sized town in Lincolnshire, 180 kilometers (110 miles) north of London.

Thatcher's personality, like that of so many of her contemporaries, was shaped in part by the traumatic events during her childhood. When World War II broke out, her hometown was one of the early targets for Luftwaffe bombs. Her belief in the need to stand up to aggressors was rooted in the failure of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's attempt to appease Adolf Hitler rather than confront him.

Thatcher said she learned much about the world simply by studying her father's business. She grew up in the family's apartment just above the shop.

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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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