Today, April 8, 2013, Lady Margaret Thatcher died of a stroke at the Ritz in London at the age of 87. The former prime minister had suffered from poor health in recent years.
Margaret Thatcher, née Roberts, was born in 1925 in Grantham, Lincolnshire. She married her husband of 50 years, Denis Thatcher, in 1951 and had two children, Carol and Mark. She studied chemistry at Oxford University and worked as a chemist before pursuing a career in law in 1954.
Thatcher began her political career in 1959, when she joined Parliament as a Conservative MP for Finchley in North London. She held this post until 1992. She held several posts in Edward Heath’s shadow cabinet from 1964 to 1970, and became secretary for education in 1970 when Heath was elected prime minister. In 1974, she would win leadership of the Conservative party, and eventually become prime minister herself when the Conservative party rose to power in the 1979 general election.
Margaret Thatcher was Britain’s first female prime minister, and among the longest-serving. She served as prime minister for 11 years, making her reign the longest since that of Lord Liverpool, who served as prime minister from 1812 to 1827. She nurtured a rapprochement between the UK and the United States, whose President Ronald Reagan shared Thatcher’s belief in free-market economics and her misgivings about socialism. She welcomed the rise to power of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985, and played a huge role in hastening the end of the Cold War. Her re-election for a third consecutive term in 1987 was unheard-of – but the term would end with Thatcher’s resignation in 1990, after her support of the poll tax sparked riots in Trafalgar Square.
Thatcher left the House of Commons in 1992 when she was appointed Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven and joined the House of Lords. In addition to public speaking engagements around the world, she founded the Thatcher Foundation to further the promotion of democracy and free trade globally, and especially in the countries of the former Soviet Bloc. She was named to the Order of the Garter, Britain’s highest order of knighthood, in 1995. She retired in 2002, after several small strokes left her without the strength to continue traveling and speaking.
The passing of Margaret Thatcher has met mixed reactions in the UK and around the world. Even as many mourn the passing of this formidable woman, others celebrate. Crowds in London, Brixton and Glasgow gathered in the streets Monday night to celebrate Thatcher’s passing with music, beer and demonstrations. Demonstrators sang “so long, the witch is dead” and chanted “Maggie Maggie Maggie, dead dead dead.”
Fifty-five percent of the English respondents to a Guardian/ICM Research poll said that they felt Thatcher’s contribution had been positive, however. Of the Scots and Welsh surveyed, 23% and 34% respectively said they felt Thatcher’s policies had been positive for the nation. At least one-quarter of all those surveyed said she had been a “very good” politician, compared to one-fifth who labeled her politics as “very bad.” Sixty-two percent of all those polled felt that Thatcher played a vital role in changing popular attitudes regarding women’s role in society, while 31% felt that her stereotypically masculine approach weakened her influence on gender relations.
Lady Thatcher will receive a ceremonial funeral with military honors at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. The ceremonial funeral is a rare honor bestowed only on persons of extreme distinction; the last person to receive one was Elizabeth, the queen mother, in 2002.