updated 04/08/2013 AT 9:40 AM ET
•originally published 04/08/2013 AT 8:00 AM ET
Margaret Thatcher, the unyielding conservative politician who from 1979 to 1990 served as Britain’s first female prime minister – and the 20th century’s longest running – died Monday. She was 87.
Her spokesman Lord Bell made the announcement: “It is with great sadness that Mark and Carol Thatcher announced that their mother Baroness Thatcher died peacefully following a stroke this morning. A further statement will be made later.”
Buckingham Palace, meanwhile, released a statement of HRH’s intentions. “The Queen was sad to hear the news of the death of Baroness Thatcher,” it read. “Her Majesty will be sending a private message of sympathy to the family.”
And President Barack Obama memorialized her saying, “the world has lost one of the great champions of freedom and liberty, and America has lost a true friend. As a grocer’s daughter who rose to become Britain’s first female prime minister, she stands as an example to our daughters that there is no glass ceiling that can’t be shattered. As prime minister, she helped restore the confidence and pride that has always been the hallmark of Britain at its best. And as an unapologetic supporter of our transatlantic alliance, she knew that with strength and resolve we could win the Cold War and extend freedom’s promise.”
His statement, released Monday, continued: “Here in America, many of us will never forget her standing shoulder to shoulder with President Reagan, reminding the world that we are not simply carried along by the currents of history we can shape them with moral conviction, unyielding courage and iron will. Michelle and I send our thoughts to the Thatcher family and all the British people as we carry on the work to which she dedicated her life free peoples standing together, determined to write our own destiny.”
Recent Health Decline
Lady Thatcher, who was awarded title of Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven in 1992, had suffered a series of strokes in recent years, and in 2005 her doctors advised that she no longer give speeches in public. Her decline was dramatized in the 2011 feature film The Iron Lady starring Meryl Streep, who, in a remarkable likeness, received both a Golden Globe award and an Oscar for the role.
But it was in the Prime Minister’s role in reshaping her country as capitalism’s staunch defender, her contribution (with her ally and friend Ronald Reagan) to the collapse of the Soviet socialist empire, and her fierce anti-trade-union stance that Margaret Hilda Roberts Thatcher will be best remembered.
Born in 1925 to Beatrice and Alfred Roberts, a Grantham shopkeeper, Margaret Hilda studied chemistry and law at Oxford, which she attended on scholarship. At 34 she fought to win – and did – the Tory Parliamentary seat in north London’s Finchley, and then climbed her party’s ranks. At 44, she landed in the Cabinet, in the traditional woman’s position as Education Minister. But she didn’t stop there.
In 1975, she challenged Edward Heath for leadership of the Tory party. When she informed Heath of her decision to run, he didn’t so much as look up from his desk, instead dismissing her by saying, “You’ll lose.” She didn’t.
Fans and Detractors
As an economic reformer, Maggie, as she was informally called, set about privatizing Britain’s nationalized industries. Even her detractors – and there were many – credited her policies with helping to turn around various companies, including the once second-rate British Airways, which became a profitable, world-class system.
Through sheer willpower, and sometimes the use of her considerable femininity, Thatcher led her country to a spectacular military victory over Argentina in the Falklands War of 1982. Her leadership style was to state the intended goal and then give the military free rein to achieve it.
Her husband, businessman Denis Thatcher, whom she met at a 1949 Paint Trades Federation gathering and married in 1951, died in 2003. She considered him both a husband and a friend, and together they had twins, born in 1953.
Surviving their parents are businessman Mark Thatcher, who has had brushes with the law (including an allegation of U.S. tax evasion, though the case was eventually dropped), and author-TV personality Carol Thatcher.