Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher dies from stroke

In this June 12, 1987, photo, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher waves to supporters from Conservative Party headquarters in London after claiming victory in Britain's general election. Ex-spokesman Tim Bell says that Thatcher has died. She was 87. Bell said the woman known to friends and foes as 'the Iron Lady' passed away Monday morning, April 8, 2013. (AP Photo/File)

In this June 12, 1987, photo, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher waves to supporters from Conservative Party headquarters in London after claiming victory in Britain's general election. Ex-spokesman Tim Bell says that Thatcher has died. She was 87. Bell said the woman known to friends and foes as "the Iron Lady" passed away Monday morning, April 8, 2013. (AP Photo/File)

LONDON — Margaret Thatcher, the combative "Iron Lady" who infuriated European allies, found a fellow believer in Ronald Reagan and transformed her country by a ruthless dedication to free markets in 11 bruising years as prime minister, has died. She was 87.

Her former spokesman, Tim Bell, said that the former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher had died Monday morning of a stroke.

To her fervent admirers, battling Maggie was an icon, a national savior who ended Britain's post-World War II cycle of confrontation and decline — eclipsed as a 20th-century British leader only by Winston Churchill.

Her vehement critics, however, saw her as a bellicose figure at home and abroad, a destroyer of industries and, with it, a way of life.

She was a sharply divisive figure even within her Conservative Party, especially on the issue of European integration; the party declined into a bickering shambles after she fell from power.

Between 1979 and 1990, her governments sold a string of nationalized industries into private ownership, crushed the once-mighty labor unions, defeated Argentina in the Falkland Islands war and preached military readiness to the Western alliance.

"We have raised Britain in the respect of the world from what it was — broke, bankrupt, unwilling to defend itself properly," Thatcher declared in 1987. "We have, I think, transformed Britain."

Thatcher's years in power overlapped Reagan's two terms as president, and her support for the American leader and her agreement with his world view never wavered. It was a political union of opposites: Thatcher had none of Reagan's disarming charm, and he lacked her appetite for hard work and devotion to detail.

The grocer's daughter became Europe's first female prime minister in 1979, four years after the Conservative Party surprised itself by making her its leader. Typically, she jumped into the leadership race while more prominent male colleagues dithered, and then proved unstoppable.

Thatcher led the Tories to a landslide victory in 1979, followed by easy wins in 1983 and 1987.

She loved the jokes claiming she beat her all-male Cabinet ministers with her handbag, and reveled in being the "Iron Lady," a nickname coined by the Soviet press.

At home, she sold huge, loss-making state-owned companies, from Jaguar to national utilities to British Airways. Many became profitable.

For the employed majority of Britons, living standards rose dramatically, but the gap widened between the well-off and the poor.

The late Peter Jenkins, a leading liberal political commentator throughout the Thatcher years, once wrote that she had "changed the political map and put her country on its feet again."

"She did all this with ruthlessness and much injustice and at a high cost in human misery, but she did it," he said.

Margaret Hilda Roberts was born Oct. 13, 1925, in the central England town of Grantham, the younger daughter of Beatrice and Alfred Roberts, a strict Methodist and pillar of the local community. Throughout her life, she espoused his values of hard work and thrift.

She earned a science degree at Oxford University, working for a time as a research chemist before switching to law and becoming a barrister — a lawyer who argues cases in court.

In 1951, she married Denis Thatcher, a wealthy businessman 11 years her senior. Their children, twins Mark and Carol, were born in 1953.

She called Denis, who died June 26, 2003, her rock and her great support. He paid for the nannies and private boarding schools which gave her the freedom to make a political career.

Thatcher was elected to Parliament in 1959, the youngest of 25 women in the House of Commons, representing Finchley in north London.

As education secretary in the 1970-74 government of Prime Minister Edward Heath, newspapers dubbed her "Thatcher Milk Snatcher" when she ended free milk for schoolchildren.

MARGARET THATCHER MILESTONES

Milestones in the life and career of Britain's former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher:

Oct. 13, 1925: Born at Grantham, central England.

June 1947: Graduates from Oxford with a chemistry degree.

Dec. 13, 1951: Marries Denis Thatcher, a wealthy oil executive.

Aug. 15, 1953: Gives birth to twins, Mark and Carol.

June 1, 1954: Qualifies as a lawyer.

Oct. 8, 1959: Elected to Parliament.

June 20, 1970: Becomes education secretary.

Feb. 11, 1975: Elected leader of the Conservative Party.

May 3, 1979: Wins national elections, becomes prime minister.

June 9, 1983: Wins second term.

June 11, 1987: Wins third term.

Jan. 3, 1988: Becomes Britain's longest continuously serving prime minister of 20th century.

Nov. 22, 1990: Announces resignation after party revolt.

Nov. 28, 1990: John Major succeeds her as prime minister.

June 26, 1992: Becomes Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven, a member of the unelected House of Lords with a lifetime title.

March 22, 2002: Ends public speaking after suffering a series of small strokes.

June 26, 2003: Her husband, Sir Denis Thatcher, dies.

April 8, 2013: Dies of stroke.

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