Former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher died from stroke at age 87 Monday

Thatcher had been in poor health after strokes

LONDON - Margaret Thatcher, the combative "Iron Lady" who infuriated European allies, found a fellow believer in Ronald Reagan and transformed her country by a ruthless dedication to free markets in 11 bruising years as prime minister, has died. She was 87 years old.

Her former spokesman, Tim Bell, said that the former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher had died Monday morning of a stroke.

To her fervent admirers, battling Maggie was an icon, a national savior who ended Britain's post-World War II cycle of confrontation and decline -- eclipsed as a 20th-century British leader only by Winston Churchill.

Her vehement critics, however, saw her as a bellicose figure at home and abroad, a destroyer of industries and, with it, a way of life.

She was a sharply divisive figure even within her Conservative Party, especially on the issue of European integration; the party declined into a bickering shambles after she fell from power.

Between 1979 and 1990, her governments sold a string of nationalized industries into private ownership, crushed the once-mighty labor unions, defeated Argentina in the Falkland Islands war and preached military readiness to the Western alliance.

"We have raised Britain in the respect of the world from what it was -- broke, bankrupt, unwilling to defend itself properly," Thatcher declared in 1987. "We have, I think, transformed Britain."

Thatcher's years in power overlapped Reagan's two terms as president, and her support for the American leader and her agreement with his world view never wavered. It was a political union of opposites: Thatcher had none of Reagan's disarming charm, and he lacked her appetite for hard work and devotion to detail.

The grocer's daughter became Europe's first female prime minister in 1979, four years after the Conservative Party surprised itself by making her its leader. Typically, she jumped into the leadership race while more prominent male colleagues dithered, and then proved unstoppable.

Thatcher led the Tories to a landslide victory in 1979, followed by easy wins in 1983 and 1987.

She loved the jokes claiming she beat her all-male Cabinet ministers with her handbag, and reveled in being the "Iron Lady," a nickname coined by the Soviet press.

At home, she sold huge, loss-making state-owned companies, from Jaguar to national utilities to British Airways. Many became profitable.

For the employed majority of Britons, living standards rose dramatically, but the gap widened between the well-off and the poor.

The late Peter Jenkins, a leading liberal political commentator throughout the Thatcher years, once wrote that she had "changed the political map and put her country on its feet again."

"She did all this with ruthlessness and much injustice and at a high cost in human misery, but she did it," he said.

Margaret Hilda Roberts was born Oct. 13, 1925, in the central England town of Grantham, the younger daughter of Beatrice and Alfred Roberts, a strict Methodist and pillar of the local community. Throughout her life, she espoused his values of hard work and thrift.

She earned a science degree at Oxford University, working for a time as a research chemist before switching to law and becoming a barrister -- a lawyer who argues cases in court.

In 1951, she married Denis Thatcher, a wealthy businessman 11 years her senior. Their children, twins Mark and Carol, were born in 1953.

She called Denis, who died June 26, 2003, her rock and her great support. He paid for the nannies and private boarding schools which gave her the freedom to make a political career.

Thatcher was elected to Parliament in 1959, the youngest of 25 women in the House of Commons, representing Finchley in north London.

As education secretary in the 1970-74 government of Prime Minister Edward Heath, newspapers dubbed her "Thatcher Milk Snatcher" when she ended free milk for schoolchildren.

Her big chance came in 1975 when the Tories dumped Heath. Thus began what a biographer, the late Hugo Young, called "an era in which an ordinary politician, laboring under many disadvantages, grew into an international figure who did some extraordinary things to her country."

She marked her course clearly. "A man's right to work as he will, to spend what he earns, to own property, to have the state as servant and not as master, they are the essence of a free economy, and on that freedom all our other freedoms depend," she said in a speech in 1975.

Her ascension to prime minister came in May 1979 on a wave of popular disgust at high inflation, garbage-strewn streets and a series of public sector strikes under the Labour Party government of James Callaghan.

When her popularity was at a low ebb in 1982, Argentina invaded the Falklands Islands. Spurning negotiation, she dispatched warships to the remote south Atlantic archipelago.

"Rejoice! Rejoice!" she exclaimed after British Marines retook South Georgia island. The surge of national pride that followed Britain's victory carried her triumphantly through the 1983 national elections, a

LONDON - Margaret Thatcher, the combative "Iron Lady" who infuriated European allies, found a fellow believer in Ronald Reagan and transformed her country by a ruthless dedication to free markets in 11 bruising years as prime minister, has died. She was 87 years old.

Her former spokesman, Tim Bell, said that the former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher had died Monday morning of a stroke.

To her fervent admirers, battling Maggie was an icon, a national savior who ended Britain's post-World War II cycle of confrontation and decline -- eclipsed as a 20th-century British leader only by Winston Churchill.

Her vehement critics, however, saw her as a bellicose figure at home and abroad, a destroyer of industries and, with it, a way of life.

She was a sharply divisive figure even within her Conservative Party, especially on the issue of European integration; the party declined into a bickering shambles after she fell from power.

Between 1979 and 1990, her governments sold a string of nationalized industries into private ownership, crushed the once-mighty labor unions, defeated Argentina in the Falkland Islands war and preached military readiness to the Western alliance.

"We have raised Britain in the respect of the world from what it was -- broke, bankrupt, unwilling to defend itself properly," Thatcher declared in 1987. "We have, I think, transformed Britain."

Thatcher's years in power overlapped Reagan's two terms as president, and her support for the American leader and her agreement with his world view never wavered. It was a political union of opposites: Thatcher had none of Reagan's disarming charm, and he lacked her appetite for hard work and devotion to detail.

The grocer's daughter became Europe's first female prime minister in 1979, four years after the Conservative Party surprised itself by making her its leader. Typically, she jumped into the leadership race while more prominent male colleagues dithered, and then proved unstoppable.

Thatcher led the Tories to a landslide victory in 1979, followed by easy wins in 1983 and 1987.

She loved the jokes claiming she beat her all-male Cabinet ministers with her handbag, and reveled in being the "Iron Lady," a nickname coined by the Soviet press.

At home, she sold huge, loss-making state-owned companies, from Jaguar to national utilities to British Airways. Many became profitable.

For the employed majority of Britons, living standards rose dramatically, but the gap widened between the well-off and the poor.

The late Peter Jenkins, a leading liberal political commentator throughout the Thatcher years, once wrote that she had "changed the political map and put her country on its feet again."

"She did all this with ruthlessness and much injustice and at a high cost in human misery, but she did it," he said.

Margaret Hilda Roberts was born Oct. 13, 1925, in the central England town of Grantham, the younger daughter of Beatrice and Alfred Roberts, a strict Methodist and pillar of the local community. Throughout her life, she espoused his values of hard work and thrift.

She earned a science degree at Oxford University, working for a time as a research chemist before switching to law and becoming a barrister -- a lawyer who argues cases in court.

In 1951, she married Denis Thatcher, a wealthy businessman 11 years her senior. Their children, twins Mark and Carol, were born in 1953.

She called Denis, who died June 26, 2003, her rock and her great support. He paid for the nannies and private boarding schools which gave her the freedom to make a political career.

Thatcher was elected to Parliament in 1959, the youngest of 25 women in the House of Commons, representing Finchley in north London.

As education secretary in the 1970-74 government of Prime Minister Edward Heath, newspapers dubbed her "Thatcher Milk Snatcher" when she ended free milk for schoolchildren.

Her big chance came in 1975 when the Tories dumped Heath. Thus began what a biographer, the late Hugo Young, called "an era in which an ordinary politician, laboring under many disadvantages, grew into an international figure who did some extraordinary things to her country."

She marked her course clearly. "A man's right to work as he will, to spend what he earns, to own property, to have the state as servant and not as master, they are the essence of a free economy, and on that freedom all our other freedoms depend," she said in a speech in 1975.

Her ascension to prime minister came in May 1979 on a wave of popular disgust at high inflation, garbage-strewn streets and a series of public sector strikes under the Labour Party government of James Callaghan.

When her popularity was at a low ebb in 1982, Argentina invaded the Falklands Islands. Spurning negotiation, she dispatched warships to the remote south Atlantic archipelago.

"Rejoice! Rejoice!" she exclaimed after British Marines retook South Georgia island. The surge of national pride that followed Britain's victory carried her triumphantly through the 1983 national elections, a