And then there were none.
Out of the despair that was endemic to the 1970s came three leaders, global giants really, who restored the world's faith in its ability to triumph over evil and to reclaim for mankind a place in the sunshine. On Sunday, at the age of 87 the last of those great leaders, Baroness Margaret Thatcher, went home to glory.
A simple shop-keeper's daughter, Lady Thatcher entered Parliament in 1959, became education secretary in 1970, the leader of the Conservative Party in 1975 and, in 1979, prime minister of the United Kingdom at a time when Britain sorely needed her. Formerly a world power, the U.K. had become – under her predecessors Harold Wilson, Jim Callahan and Edward Heath – an economic basket case, verging on third world status.
Thatcher changed all that. Inaugurating a program of privatization, defense of free market principles, responsible spending and tax cuts, she revitalized the British economy and restored the nation to the status of a world power. Along with Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II she adopted a tough stance against Soviet expansionism, a posture that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet state.
Her comments on politics and freedom are memorable, perhaps even more so than Reagan's. "Being powerful is like being a lady," she once said. "If you have to tell people you are, you aren't." Here in the United States her oft-quoted observation that "The only thing wrong with socialism is that sooner or later you run out of other people's money" is, today, much in vogue.
The woman once derided by her critics as "Thatcher the Milk Snatcher' became the longest continually serving British Prime Minister in the 20th century. She never went, as she would put it, "wobbly." She was proud of the fact that she was a "conviction politician," operating primarily from principle rather than from a need to establish consensus first. "Standing in the middle of the road is very dangerous," she once said. "You get knocked down by the traffic from both sides."
The Irish Republican Army tried to assassinate her. The British left has never forgiven her for her success, much of which could not be undone even under the long premiership of Labour's Tony Blair, and Mikhail Gorbachev had to deal with her. She even, a close associate once told me, had to put the stick to Reagan every once in a while. Her accomplishments are legion, and are being well-documented in today's news and commentary pages. It was not so much that she was the first woman to hold her nation's highest political office as it was her status as a transformational leader of the United Kingdom and the world that will secure her place in history.