Britain’s ‘Iron Lady’ dies at 87

McClatchy Newspapers


Margaret Thatcher, the grocer’s daughter who punched through an old-boy political network to become Britain’s first female prime minister, stamping her personality indelibly on the nation and pursuing policies that reverberate decades later, has died. She was 87.

The BBC read out a statement early Monday afternoon from Thatcher’s friend and former adviser, Tim Bell, saying: “It is with great sadness that Mark and Carol Thatcher announce that their mother, Baroness Thatcher, died peacefully following a stroke this morning.”

Prime Minister David Cameron, the current leader of Thatcher’s Conservative Party, said that his country had lost “a great leader, a great prime minister and a great Briton.”

The woman many regard as Britain’s most important peacetime leader of the 20th century shook her country like an earthquake after moving into 10 Downing St. in 1979. In nearly a dozen years at the top, she transformed the political and economic landscape through a conservative free-market revolution bearing her name, Thatcherism, which sought to reverse Britain’s postwar decline and the welfare state that she felt accelerated it.

Her policies ushered in boom times for go-getter Britons but also exacerbated social inequalities. Such is her legacy that every prime minister since has had to deal with aspects of it, toiling in the shadow of a woman worshiped by her fans and vilified by her foes.

She ended her days as Baroness Thatcher of Kest-even, far removed from her modest birth as Margaret Hilda Roberts of Grantham, a historic market town in northeast England. In between, she accumulated an Oxford education in chemistry, a London law degree, a seat in Parliament and a place in history as the longest continuously serving premier in more than 150 years.

The formidable persona she crafted also earned her a string of unflattering nicknames, such as “Attila the Hen” and her best-known moniker, the “Iron Lady.” The latter, from a Soviet newspaper, was meant as an insult. But Thatcher characteristically wore it as a badge of honor, a compliment to her conservative mettle, and it was the inevitable title of a biopic starring Meryl Streep, who won an Oscar in 2012 for her portrayal of a once-fearsome political leader debilitated by Alzheimer’s disease.

Thatcher’s increasing dementia meant infrequent public appearances in recent years, though new prime ministers still stopped by her home to pay their respects and invited her to glittering state occasions. In 2011, she was said to be bitterly disappointed at being too frail to attend an unveiling of a statue of her political soulmate, President Ronald Reagan, outside the U.S. Embassy in London.

Like Reagan, Thatcher was a fierce cold warrior. But it was a “hot” conflict that vaulted her into the international spotlight.

Thatcher also espoused her philosophy of reduced taxation and regulation during an April 3, 2000, lecture before a near-capacity crowd in Youngstown’s 2,300-seat Edward W. Powers Auditorium. Her speech was part of Youngstown State University’s annual Skeggs Lecture Series.

With tight security provided by Scotland Yard, the sheriff’s department and city and YSU police, about 25 pickets from local Irish-American organizations marched across the street, calling attention to what they called British atrocities against Irish people.

Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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