Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has Died. She was 87.
The U.K. press is reporting that Thatcher suffered a stroke and her children said in a statement she passed “peacefully.”
“It is with great sadness that Mark and Carol Thatcher announced that their mother Baroness Thatcher died peacefully following a stroke this morning,” Lord Bell, Thatcher’s spokesperson, said.
Thatcher, known as the “Iron Lady,” was a staunch critic of Communism and delivered several memorable lines while defending Capitalism. For example, during her last speech in the House of Commons in 1990, she delivered a rousing rebuttal to a member of Parliament who questioned her policies and their affect on the poor:
She ruled for 11 remarkable years and imposed her will on a fractious, rundown nation – breaking the unions, triumphing in a far-off war, and selling off state industries at a record pace. She left behind a leaner government and more prosperous nation by the time a mutiny ousted her from No. 10 Downing Street.
For admirers, Thatcher was a savior who rescued Britain from ruin and laid the groundwork for an extraordinary economic renaissance. For critics, she was panned as a heartless tyrant who ushered in an era of greed that kicked the weak out onto the streets and let the rich become filthy rich.
“Let us not kid ourselves, she was a very divisive figure,” said Bernard Ingham, Thatcher’s press secretary for her entire term. “She was a real toughie. She was a patriot with a great love for this country, and she raised the standing of Britain abroad.”
President Barack Obama released a statement praising her efforts, although he never mentioned by name her fight against communism and socialism.
“With the passing of Baroness Margaret Thatcher, the world has lost one of the great champions of freedom and liberty, and America has lost a true friend,” Obama’s statement reads.
It goes on later: “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.”
Thatcher was the first – and still only – female prime minister in Britain’s history. But she often found feminists tiresome and was not above using her handbag as a prop to underline her swagger and power. A grocer’s daughter, she rose to the top of Britain’s snobbish hierarchy the hard way, and envisioned a classless society that rewarded hard work and determination.
She was a trailblazer who at first believed trailblazing impossible: Thatcher told the Liverpool Daily Post in 1974 that she did not think a woman would serve as party leader or prime minister during her lifetime.
But once in power, she never showed an ounce of doubt.
Thatcher could be intimidating to those working for her: British diplomats sighed with relief on her first official visit to Washington, D.C., as prime minister to find that she was relaxed enough to enjoy a glass of whiskey and a half-glass of wine during an embassy lunch, according to official documents.
Like her close friend and political ally Ronald Reagan, Thatcher seemed motivated by an unshakable belief that free markets would build a better country than reliance on a strong, central government. Another thing she shared with the American president: a tendency to reduce problems to their basics, choose a path, and follow it to the end, no matter what the opposition.
She formed a deep attachment to the man she called “Ronnie” – some spoke of it as a schoolgirl crush. Still, she would not back down when she disagreed with him on important matters, even though the United States was the richer and vastly stronger partner in the so-called “special relationship.”
Thatcher was at her brashest when Britain was challenged. When Argentina’s military junta seized the remote Falklands Islands from Britain in 1982, she did not hesitate even though her senior military advisers said it might not be feasible to reclaim the islands.
She simply would not allow Britain to be pushed around, particularly by military dictators, said Ingham, who recalls the Falklands War as the tensest period of Thatcher’s three terms in power. When diplomacy failed, she dispatched a military task force that accomplished her goal, despite the naysayers.
“That required enormous leadership,” Ingham said. “This was a formidable undertaking, this was a risk with a capital R-I-S-K, and she demonstrated her leadership by saying she would give the military their marching orders and let them get on with it.”
Thatcher served from 1979-1990.
This is a breaking story. Updates will be added. The Associated Press contributed to this report.