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Obit: Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013)

Chris Collins/The Margaret Thatcher Foundation

Chris Collins/The Margaret Thatcher Foundation

Yesterday the news of the death of Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, created headlines and discussions around the world. Many people, myself included, obviously felt that her demise marked the end of an era and wanted to talk about it. Because no matter where one is in the world or in what political direction one’s heart leans – Margaret Thatcher evoked feelings and opinions. She left this world with the epithet Iron Lady, and she certainly was one.

Thatcher came from a regular middle class family, she never could get rid of the calling name “grocer’s daughter”, but her image was completely different. With her unique high-pitched and clearly elocuted upper class English and an elegant, conservative style she always made an impression. In reality, on photos and via radio. Paired with an elegant style that included the trademark handbag, just like the Queen, pearls, large hats and well-cut suits – it all made her one of a kind.

With this unique image Thatcher made her way into politics in England; a very male dominated world where the upper class boys attend the same posh schools and them meet again at leading positions, in the House of Lords and at private gentlemen’s clubs. After first making her way into parliament, Thatcher became a minister and then, in 1979, she became the first democratically elected female head of government of a large western country.

She became known for her market-oriented economic policies and a sceptic attitude towards what is now the EU (still today lingering on in the conservative party in the UK). Thatcher strengthened her country’s position in the world as she became good friends with Ronald Reagan and championed against communism. Through her relative approval of Mikhail Gorbachev she also brought her own country and the USA closer to Russia. Much can be said about the domestic policies and the battles she fought on the home front, some which led her to be hated by some and loved by others, but Thatcher way always true to herself.

Thatcher may not have been a uniting political character, even if not intended, but then again that’s not the Prime Minister’s role in the United Kingdom but more that of the monarch’s. She held her line and made no excuses, the political landscape was divided into strong ideologies. Perhaps then people thought she was too extreme and unwavering in her ways, and ultimately this was what looks to have caused her downfall, but today her iconic status could also signal that people miss politicians who are unique, steadfast and ideological.

After eleven and a half years as Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher left office in 1990. After being challenged in her leadership she left the positions as Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party voluntarily. On the steps of 10 Downing Street Mrs Thatcher said goodbye to some wonderful years and pointed out that she handed over the country in a better shape than it had been when she had taken over in 1979.

After leaving the big political arena Thatcher remained a strong character both at home and around the world. She wrote books, endorsed political candidates in elections and travelled widely to support causes, give interviews and appear at conferences. Few have been honoured with as many prominent portraits as she and Thatcher proudly unveiled most of them.

Queen Elizabeth II, who is said to not always have been at ease with her rather high and strict character (the court curtsies Thatcher performed were infamous), honoured Thatcher with a peerage and in 1992 she entered the House of Lords as Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven. Thatcher was also appointed to the Order of the Garter, an incredible honour, and before all of this even happened Thatcher’s husband was given an hereditary baronetcy in an extraordinary measure.

Despite the divided different opinions of Thatcher and the huge amounts of prizes and accolades she received through the years, her memory will be that as the United Kingdom’s first (and so far only) female Prime Minister and the Iron Lady. A resolute and strict woman who made an enduring impression on both her lifetime and the future; an achievement that very few politicians succeed in today.

The last few years Lady Thatcher lived a pretty quiet and secluded life. Her daughter Carol openly talked to the British media of her mother’s dementia but friends and colleagues bear witness of how she remained very sharp about her own political life until the end and with great interest followed the political life both from a distance and up-close. She suffered several strokes and other health problems but even after officially retiring from public life about a decade ago Lady Thatcher appeared when her health permitted. The last time she was seen as her representative self in higher circles was in 2010 when she could attend for example the Garter Day in Windsor. In April 2011 she was invited to Prince William’s wedding but her health did not permit her attending.

Monday 8 April 2013 Margaret Thatcher passed away at The Ritz in London. Flags at official government buildings, Buckingham Palace included (the Queen was at Windsor) were lowered at half-mast. After her own wishes and the Queen’s permission Thatcher will receive a ceremonial (not state) funeral next Wednesday 17 April at St Paul’s Cathedral in London, attended by Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by a private cremation.

Baroness Thatcher changed the game in UK politics and opened doors for women. True to herself she was seen as a strong and determined politician but not played down as “a strong woman” as can be the case for many today. Thatcher left this world as an icon and will so remain into the future. “She stands as an example to our daughters that there is no glass ceiling that can’t be shattered”, President Obama said yesterday of her legacy.

Margaret Thatcher is survived by two children and two grandchildren.