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 on Monday morning.
Thatcher is credited with changing the face of British politics during her three terms as Prime Minister. She was married to Denis Thatcher and had two children a son and daughter - twins.
Conservative prime minister from 1979 - 1990
First woman to be Britain's prime minister, served 3 terms
Became Conservative Party leader in Parliament in 1975
Served as education and science secretary in the 1970s
Married to Denis Thatcher, had 2 children
Thatcher was the first woman to hold Britain's highest elected office. She was considered a respected and outspoken world leader during her 11 years in power.
In her autobiography, 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.
The daughter of a middle class baker, she studied research chemistry and law but soon switched to politics. Margaret Thatcher served as secretary of state for education and science in the 1970s. She quickly rose through Conservative party ranks and became leader of the opposition in Parliament in 1975. She was elected prime minister in 1979.
Thatcher's leadership was controversial at the time. She cut the power of the labor unions, reduced public spending, privatized state-run companies, and moved her centrist Conservative Party farther to the political right.
She never hid her hostility toward the European Union's design for closer economic and political cooperation. Thatcher warned it would rob Britain of its sovereignty.
As the only woman EU leader at the time, Thatcher's trademark became the black handbag she always carried on her arm. Her blunt style and sharp tongue were described as "handbagging."
The term became synonymous with Thatcher tirades against EU leaders trying to forge closer unity.
"You can't just have precisely the kind of leader that you would like. It's a choice between what's on offer," she noted. "Doubtless there were many people for whom I was not the ideal leader, particularly those who wanted to go into Europe much more deeply than I did."
Despite the criticism, the tenacious Margaret Thatcher won landslide victories for second and third terms in office. But her deliberate move to the political right angered many within her own party.
She was ousted as party leader and prime minister in 1990. Thatcher was later made a baroness and appointed to the House of Lords.
In a 1996 speech, Thatcher blamed her party's loss of popularity on a new leadership that she said had betrayed her principles. What works she insisted, is free enterprise, not big government
She did not hesitate to offer advice to her successor, John Major, as he battled -- unsuccessfully -- to keep the Conservative Party in power.
"Never give up power voluntarily," she advised. "If you believe in your message you want to win because you know the message in your hands is likely to be very much more effectively administered than people who now say they agree with it but who never have thought of it in the first place."
Ironically, it was a newly fashioned Labour Party that dumped its socialist rhetoric and adopted the Thatcher strategy to win power in 1997 and put the Conservative Party back in the opposition.
Thatcher refused to sit quietly in the background even in her final years. She was a tireless campaigner for conservative candidates around the country and never hesitated to offer advice and support to the next generation of Conservative Party leaders.