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.

AP

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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.

"Before I read a line from the great liberal economists, I knew from my father's accounts that the free market was like a vast sensitive nervous system, responding to events and signals all over the world to meet the ever-changing needs of peoples in different countries, from different classes, of different religions, with a kind of benign indifference to their status," she wrote in her memoirs.

"The economic history of Britain for the next 40 years confirmed and amplified almost every item of my father's practical economics. In effect, I had been equipped at an early age with the ideal mental outlook and tools of analysis for reconstructing an economy ravaged by state socialism."

Educated at Oxford, Thatcher began her political career in her mid-20s with an unsuccessful 1950 campaign for a parliamentary seat in the Labour Party stronghold of Dartford. She earned nationwide publicity as the youngest female candidate in the country, despite her loss at the polls.

She was defeated again the next year, but on the campaign trail she met Denis Thatcher, a successful businessman whom she married in 1951. Their twins, Mark and Carol, were born two years later.

"She was beautiful, gay, very kind and thoughtful," Denis Thatcher said in an interview 25 years later. "Who could meet Margaret without being completely slain by her personality and intellectual brilliance?"

As the first male Downing Street spouse, Denis Thatcher stayed out of the limelight to a large degree while supporting his wife on her many travels and public engagements. He was said to give her important behind-the-scenes advice on Cabinet choices and other personnel matters, but this role was not publicly discussed.

Margaret Thatcher first won election to Parliament in 1959, representing Finchley in north London. She climbed the Conservative Party ladder quickly, joining the Cabinet as education secretary in 1970.

In that post, she earned the unwanted nickname "Thatcher the milk snatcher" because of her reduction of school milk programs. It was a taste of battles to come.

As prime minister, she sold off one state industry after another: British Telecom, British Gas, Rolls-Royce, British Airways, British Coal, British Steel, the water companies and the electricity distribution system among them. She was proud of her government's role in privatizing some public housing, turning tenants into homeowners.

She ruffled feathers simply by being herself. She had faith — sometimes blind faith — in the clarity of her vision and little use for those of a more cautious mien.

Success in the Falklands War set the stage for a pivotal fight with the National Union of Miners, which began a 51-week strike in March 1984 to oppose the government's plans to close a number of mines.

The miners battled police on picket lines but couldn't beat Thatcher, and returned to work without gaining any concessions.

She survived an audacious 1984 assassination attempt by the Irish Republican Army that nearly succeeded. The IRA detonated a bomb in her hotel in Brighton during a party conference, killing and injuring senior government figures, but leaving the prime minister and her husband unharmed.

Thatcher won a third term in another landslide in 1987, but may have become overconfident.

She trampled over cautionary advice from her own ministers in 1989 and 1990 by imposing a hugely controversial "community charge" tax that was quickly dubbed a "poll tax" by opponents. It was designed to move Britain away from a property tax and instead imposed a flat rate tax on every adult except for retirees and people who were registered unemployed.

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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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