Rick Hampson | April 8, 2013
The Iron Lady had some wrinkles. She was a Cold Warrior who helped end that conflict peacefully; a powerful woman who eschewed feminism; a British leader who refused second place in the Anglo-American "special relationship," even though her counterpart was a political genius at the height of his power.
That was Margaret Thatcher, fierce ally of America in a tumultuous time that saw the end of the Soviet empire and the rise of U.S. arms in the Middle East. In London there was Thatcher, in Washington there was Ronald Reagan -- "political soul mates," the former president's widow Nancy said.
Many Americans regarded Thatcher as a prime minister second only to the venerated Winston Churchill, whose brusque tenacity she admired and modeled. When she died Monday at 87, she took a chunk of the 20th century with her.
In Britain, Thatcher at her most popular still was highly divisive. Across the ocean, she seemed more benign. American union members, pro-Irish nationalists and academics might dislike her for her stands on strikes, Northern Ireland and funding of higher education, but she was generally portrayed as a tough leader doing what had to be done.
"That was the image that most Americans imbibed," says James Grossman, director of the American Historical Association. "She got good press."
The polls showed it.
Asked by the Gallup Organization to name the woman in the world they most admired, Americans six times between 1982 and 1990 picked Thatcher. In 1990, when she left office, more than three quarters of respondents told Gallup they had a favorable impression of Thatcher's performance. Nine years later, nearly 1 in 10 Americans said she was one of the people they most admired in the century.
She was Britain's first (and still its only) female prime minister, and for two decades she was the only woman to lead a major Western democracy.
You knew where she stood -- for free-market capitalism, a strong military and the special relationship with America. And she relished the "Iron Lady" tag hung on her by the Soviets, saying, "If you lead a country like Britain, a strong country, a country which has taken a lead in world affairs in good times and in bad, a country that is always reliable, then you have to have a touch of iron about you."