Later this month, a new movie (The Iron Lady) that is already generating Oscar buzz and stars Meryl Streep in the role of Margaret Thatcher, will be released. Those of you who know me well, are already aware that I have both a personal and professional (i.e., emotional) connection to Mrs. Thatcher. The late Sir Gordon Reece, who was an intensely dear friend of mine, was instrumental in transforming her from a Conservative member of Parliament to the legend she later became. Margaret Hilda Roberts Thatcher is the first and only woman to have led a British political party, the first female Prime Minister in the English-speaking world, as well as the longest-serving British Prime Minister (of either sex) since British women were granted the right to vote (8: Turning No Into Yes).
Thatcher was born on October 13, 1925 in Grantham, in the East Midlands of England. Her father was a grocer who had two shops in Grantham, and was also a Methodist lay preacher (3: Belief in the Unbelievable). Their home life as a family that lived "above the shop" was full of reminders that hard work, education and discipline were the keys to success. Margaret and her sister were required to read two library books each week (and one of them had to be non-fiction). The family attended church twice each Sunday, and Margaret was an enthusiastic and admired member of the choir (9: Music).
Alfred Roberts (her father) also served as an alderman (a now discontinued form of local politician), and passed his love of public service to Margaret, his younger daughter, who as a little girl often went to political meetings with him (2: An Early Sense of Direction). Since there were no sons in the family, Alfred channeled all of his ambition into Margaret. At his urging she developed into a gifted student who became the first member of her family to attend college and - unlike her peers - managed to win a place at Oxford. As one admirer noted "Her father drove her to it. He may have been a Victorian patriarch, but he was no sexist" (4: Supportive Someone).
In 1949, at only 23, she was adopted as a Conservative Parliamentary candidate for the first time. Three years later, she married Denis Thatcher, who was ten years her senior and had been previously married; they soon had twins, Carol and Mark, and enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle in London. Even though her training was in science, she became a member of Parliament at age 33, which highlighted her natural tendency to be self-critical (10: The Critic Within). From her teeth to her weight to her clothes and even her voice, she worked hard (with Gordon's guidance) to be the best that she could be. Her staff and aides were often driven to the point of exhaustion by her perfectionist revisions and rehearsals whenever there was an important speech or event on the calendar.
Nicknamed "The Iron Lady" because of her fearless ability to take an unpopular stand (her decision to fight for a poll tax, go to war over the Falkland Islands, fight the unions and revamp the country's economy), she was often unpopular at home even though she was admired abroad (5: Life is Not a Popularity Contest). Lately, there have been a number of articles arguing that Mrs. Thatcher's decisiveness and economic realism is exactly what's needed in light of the global financial meltdown. After all, in nine tears she lowered the top rate of income tax from 98% to 40% and reduced "work days lost to strikes" from 29.5 million to 1.9 million. And these changes brought with them massive, controversial social upheaval.
Thatcher claimed that her leadership skills came from the lessons she learned as a child: "...an honest day's work for an honest day's pay; live within your means; put by a nest egg for a rainy day; pay your bills on time; support the police." She observed that "In politics, if you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman." Mrs. Thatcher reluctantly left office in November 1990, when she realized that her own party - after she had been at 10 Downing Street for eleven years - chose to support John Major rather than her. She was deeply hurt and felt betrayed when she learned that the locks to her personal office door had been immediately changed after the vote. She made no secret of the depth of her sense of loss (12: Hard Times).
These days, she is known as "Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven," and it is rumored that when the 86 year old former Prime Minister dies - because she achieved more than any other peace time Prime Minister of the 20th century - she will receive a state funeral. It is an honor usually reserved for monarchs.
Looking forward to your comments...