Wednesday, April 10, 2013

an iron lady worth remembering.

margaret hilda roberts thatcher,
baroness thatcher, lg, om, pc, frs
was her full & official moniker.

but millions worldwide knew her as maggie,
the british conservative party politician
who, from 1979 to 1990, served as the
first & only woman prime minister of the united kingdom,
the longest-serving british pm of the 20th century,
& the first woman to lead a modern western power.

she was maggie, & she didn't settle.

maggie roberts was born in grantham, lincolnshire, on october 13, 1925.
she & her older sister muriel grew up in a cold-water flat
above one of the two grocery stores owned & operated by her father.
alf the grocer was also a methodist preacher & ambitious politician.
following the tenets of his religion — hard work, personal responsibility & traditional values —
alf became mayor of grantham in 1945-46, & was a local alderman until 1952.

as a youth, maggie learned plenty about those methodist
tenets & about politics from her father. she also
played piano & field hockey, & enjoyed poetry & swimming.

in 1943, maggie went to oxford on scholarship.
she wanted to join the oxford union debating society,
but the organization didn't accept women until twenty years later,
so maggie joined the the oxford university conservative association,
of which she became president in 1946.
in 1947, she graduated with second-class honours
in the four-year chemistry bachelor of science degree,
& became a research chemist.

in 1949, maggie met denis thatcher, a divorcée ten years her senior.
he was also a conservative activist, a decorated artillery officer,
& a millionaire businessman. they wed in 1951, & in 1953,
maggie gave birth to twins, mark & carol [pictured above].

maggie decided to study law, & became a barrister
specializing in tax law. but politics was always her real calling.
she began running for various offices in 1948, but didn't succeed
until she was elected member of parliament [mp] for finchley in 1959.
in 1970, prime minister edward heath appointed her
secretary of state for education & science.
but heath was ousted in 1974, & the following year, maggie
defeated heath & several other male contenders
to become leader of the opposition that took over the conservative party,
becoming the first woman to lead a major british political party.

just a year later, it was the soviet press who provided her enduring epithet,
the iron lady. maggie embraced it as a badge of honor.

meanwhile, britain was being called the sick old man of europe, plagued by
the economic ills of severe inflation, budget deficits & industrial unrest.

so it was no surprise when a special vote was called for may 1979,
the conservative party, with maggie as their leader, displaced the ruling labour party,
& margaret thatcher was elected prime minister of the united kingdom.

maggie's leadership had turned the conservative party,
the historical champion of the status quo, into the party of reform,
& thatcherism had been born:
the belief that economic freedom & individual liberty are interdependent,
that personal responsibility & hard work are the only ways to national prosperity,
& that the free-market democracies must stand staunchly against aggression.

with uncompromising politics & leadership style,
maggie pushed an agenda that stressed strengthening business
via deregulation & privatization of state-owned companies,
& weakening unions. her first few years were grim,
but eventually, her policies rescued the british economy,
revitalizing business,spurring growth & expanding the middle class.

during her eleven years at the helm,
maggie also led great britain to victory in the ten-week
falklands war against invading argentina in 1982,
helped guide the united states & the soviet union through the cold war's final years,
helped repel saddam hussein's invasion of kuwait,
& negotiated the end of gb's lease over hong kong.

but, by the time she was re-elected a second time in 1987,
maggie's successful reign had peaked, & storm clouds were gathering.
the recession had returned, her community charge [a sort of poll tax]
was unpopular, & her refusal to integrate the uk with
the rest of the european community ultimately caused her
cabinet members to mutiny. maggie resigned as prime minister in 1990.

two years later, she retired from the house of commons
upon receiving life peerage as baroness thatcher
of kesteven in the county of lincolnshire,
which permitted her to sit in the house of lords.

maggie spent her post-pm years consulting, speaking & writing her memoirs. among other honors,
she was awarded the presidential medal of freedom, the highest civilian honor given by the u.s.
she suffered a series of strokes in 2002 that exacerbated looming dementia;
in 2003, her dear husband denis died of pancreatic cancer, & she stopped speaking publicly.

margaret thatcher died monday of a stroke at the age of 87.

carry on, iron lady. & we will do the same.

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