This past Saturday marked the fortieth anniversary of Margaret Thatcher taking office as the prime minister of the United Kingdom. Thatcher served as PM for nearly a decade, during which time she became, along with Ronald Reagan, one of the West’s greatest champions of free enterprise, anti-communism, and individual liberty. (Ronald Reagan called her the “best man in England” and she called him “the second most important man in my life.”)
Here are five facts you should know about the late British leader.
1. Thatcher graduated from Oxford University in 1947 with a B.S. in Chemistry (specializing in X-ray crystallography), and worked as a research chemist (she helped develop soft-serve ice cream) before becoming involved in politics. Thatcher was the first Prime Minister to win three elections in a row. When she retired she was given the title of Baroness and joined the House of Lords. After her retirement from politics she served, from 1993 to 2000, as chancellor of the College of William and Mary, in Williamsburg, Virginia.
2. Thatcher was brought up as a devout Methodist and remained a committed Christian until her death in April 2013.
3. Like Joseph Chamberlain’s umbrella and Winston Churchill’s cigar, Thatcher’s physical and metaphorical prop was her handbag. As one Conservative politician noted in 1982, “She cannot see an institution without hitting it with her handbag.” The term ‘handbagging’ was used so often in reference to Thatcher’s abrasive style that the word entered the Oxford English Dictionary.
4. On October 12, 1984, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) planted a bomb at a hotel that was hosting a Conservative Party conference with the purpose of killing Thatcher and her cabinet. While she narrowly escaped the assassination attempt, the blast killed five people and injured 31 others. In her response to the attack Thatcher said, “It was an attempt to cripple Her Majesty’s democratically-elected Government. That is the scale of the outrage in which we have all shared, and the fact that we are gathered here now—shocked, but composed and determined—is a sign not only that this attack has failed, but that all attempts to destroy democracy by terrorism will fail.”
5. Thatcher was known for having two colorful nicknames. In 1970 she became Secretary of State for Education and stopped free milk program for schoolchildren, earning her the nickname ‘Thatcher, the Milk Snatcher.’ A few years later, after a speech in 1976 in which she condemned Communism, a Soviet journalist dubbed her ‘The Iron Lady.’ She is said to have liked that nickname.