Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher has died at the age of 87, following a stroke.
Family spokesman Lord Tim Bell said Britain’s only female prime minister died peacefully Monday morning. Within minutes of the announcement, ordinary citizens began to put flowers and condolence notes outside her home in London.
The British government said Thatcher would receive a ceremonial funeral at St. Paul’s Cathedral with military honors, a step short of a state funeral, in accordance with the wishes of her family. It said a private cremation would follow later, but provided no details on the timing of the service.
Mrs. Thatcher, who was made a baroness by Queen Elizabeth, had a long and controversial career, transforming the British economy and society with her Conservative Party’s anti-union, anti-regulation policies during an 11-year tenure from 1979 to 1990.
She was a grocer’s daughter who rose to become Britain’s only woman prime minister, and she held the job longer than anyone else in the 20th century. When she first came to office, she expressed this hope.
“Where there is discord may we bring harmony, where there is error may we bring truth, where there is doubt may we bring faith and where there is despair may we bring hope,” she said.
But her tenure through three election victories created considerable discord, alienating workers, deregulating health and safety hazards, and splitting her own cabinet on some issues. She stood firm against militants in Northern Ireland, allowing one of them to starve himself to death in prison.
She supported British membership in the European Union, but insisted on not participating in the open borders agreement and the common euro currency. And she took the country to war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands.
Mrs. Thatcher’s supporters and opponents agree that she had a huge impact on Britain, as a pioneering woman in politics and as a transformational prime minister. As with any politician, her legacy will be mixed, but all appear to agree she earned her nickname, the Iron Lady.
Mrs. Thatcher, who is credited with changing the face of British politics during her three terms as prime minister, was married to Denis Thatcher and had two children, a son and daughter, twins.
In her autobiography, Mrs. Thatcher said her foremost achievement, as prime minister, was to shift British policy from what she called soft socialism to a free-enterprise society.
Five years after leaving office, she told a television interviewer she had also restored Britain’s high rank in the world because of her unwavering stand for freedom and liberty. She recalled her decision to send British troops to defend the Falkland Islands in 1982 when Argentine forces invaded the British dependency.
“People knew that we would not tolerate an aggressor. We would not appease an aggressor. So we went down to the Falklands,” she recalled. “That was the first time an aggressor had been thrown out in the post war period. So we did turn Britain around to become a great nation again although within much smaller borders in a way because we no longer have an empire. But we got back our self-respect and our reputation.”
The same could be said for her condemnation of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Standing next to then U.S. president George Bush at a meeting in the United States, Mrs. Thatcher did not hesitate to call for military action if necessary to stop Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.