London, April 8 (IANS) Margaret Thatcher, a grocer’s daughter who became Britain’s only woman prime minister, died Monday after suffering a stroke, her family announced. She was 87. An admirer of Indira Gandhi, Thatcher was called the “Iron Lady”.
The Conservative prime minister from 1979 to 1990 had been keeping away from public appearances due to poor health. She suffered a stroke in 2002 and minor strokes thereafter. The end came early in the morning.
Her spokesman Lord Bell said: “It is with great sadness that Mark and Carol Thatcher announce that their mother Baroness Thatcher died peacefully following a stroke this morning.”
Prime Minister David Cameron joined world leaders in paying glowing tributes. “We’ve lost a great leader, a great prime minister and a great Briton.”
Thatcher was admitted to hospital shortly before Christmas and she underwent an operation to remove a growth from her bladder. She returned home before the new year, reported the British media.
Besides Ronald Reagan with whom she shared conservative values, Thatcher enjoyed a strong bond with Indira Gandhi, who too was admired for her toughness as India’s prime minister.
During a 1995 visit to India, Thatcher said of Gandhi: “Very early on, we struck up a close rapport, for we both felt the loneliness of high office and it was good to be able to talk to someone who understood.”
“I found in her qualities which seem to me essential in a statesman. She was passionately proud of her own country, always courageous and very practical.”
When Thatcher survived narrowly a 1984 Irish Republican Army attack on a hotel hosting a Conservative Party meet, Indira Gandhi was among the first to send her a message.
Within weeks, however, Thatcher was devastated on learning that Gandhi had been shot dead by her bodyguards.
Thatcher felt equally personally aggrieved when Rajiv Gandhi, Indira’s son and successor, was blown up by a suicide bomber in 1991.
Born Margaret Roberts in 1925, Thatcher became the Conservative MP for Finchley in north London in 1959. After a long and eventful career, she quit the Commons in 1992.
She successfully challenged former prime minister Edward Heath for her party’s leadership in 1975. She won general elections in 1979, 1983 and 1987.
She presided over Britain’s war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands in 1982.
Thatcher was credited with putting Britain back among the leading industrial nations of the world.
Lord Bell told Sky News: “We’ll never see the like of her again. She was one of the great prime ministers of all time.”
He called Thatcher the greatest Conservative leader with the exception of Winston Churchill.
Thatcher was nicknamed the “Iron Lady” by a Russian journalist in 1976 for her opposition to Soviet communism. It is a moniker that stuck.
Her coming to power in 1979 signalled the end of an era when trade unions ruled the roost.
She stripped the unions of many of their powers with the aim of transferring them to managements and individual consumers, recalled Daily Mail.
A leadership challenge forced her to leave No.10 Downing Street in 1990. Two years later she was made a life peer as Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven.
In recent years, she led a quiet life cared for by her housekeeper Kate. She suffered a minor stroke in 2002 that left her with short-term memory loss.
Her husband Denis died in 2003. Her children Mark and Carol both live abroad.