Nightly News   |  April 08, 2013

‘Iron Lady’ Margaret Thatcher dies at 87

As the first woman to serve as British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher shifted British policy to the right and became an influential and controversial figure among political leaders. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reports.

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>>> good evening. very few people get to be remembered when they are gone as having changed the world while alive. margaret thatcher is being remembered that way tonight after word arrived today of the death of this woman who was given the title iron lady by the soviets. she was an inspiration to many women, many conservatives. a lot of brits and a lot of americans who felt as if they knew her long before meryl streep portrayed her. like a lot of trailblazers she was tough, very controversial, especially in the uk. but she reformed her own country and helped to make the cold war fade into history. she died today at the age of 87. as we go on the air tonight, in london the flag over parliament is at half staff marking her 11 years of service as prime minister. our chief foreign affairs correspondent andrea mitchell starts us off tonight with a look back.

>> he would rather have that. that's a liberal policy. i'm enjoying this. i'm enjoying this.

>> reporter: she was a woman playing a man's game, delighting in the sheer combat.

>> margaret thatcher didn't just lead our country. she saved our country.

>> reporter: a grocer's daughter she rode into office on public anger over strikes, inflation and unemployment. taking on the trade unions and crushing them.

>> what we've got is an attempt to substitute the rule of the mob for the rule of law.

>> reporter: thatcher opposed immigration, forced through radical budget cuts and fought communism. the soviets called her the iron lady and it stuck.

>> the iron lady of the western world .

>> reporter: in ro nald reagan she found her ideological soul mate . she was first to say gorbachev was a different kind of soviet leader and reagan listened.

>> i like mr. gorbachev. we can do business together.

>> with if we had been hostile. if margaret thatcher hadn't said we could do business with this man it might have taken longer.

>> reporter: reagan admired her defiance of i.r.a. hunger strikes and the grit.

>> the lady is not for turning.

>> reporter: thatcher was undaunted by an assassination attempt .

>> the conference will go on, as usual.

>> reporter: thatcher and reagan had one disagreement, when reagan invaded grenada.

>> margaret told ronny, this is notification, not consultation.

>> reporter: as reagan prepared to leave office, thatcher predicted gash chevy would bring down the iron curtain .

>> how do you rate his chances of success?

>> i think he's already made changes. i think the openness of discussion, debate both in the public media and privately is a great step forward.

>> reporter: when iraq invaded kuwait thatcher advised president bush now is not the time to go wobbly. she was portrayed by meryl streep .

>> i will not negotiate with criminals or thugs.

>> reporter: in 2004 thatcher eulogized reagan on video.

>> we have lost a great president, a great american.

>> reporter: although ailing she attended the funeral and burial in california. they had a special relationship as nancy reagan remembered today.

>> oh, they did. they certainly did. from the very beginning, the first time they met. of course i loved it that she and ronny were as close as they were.

>> reporter: colin powell said today she was a leader first who happened to be a woman but became an inspiration to other women leaders who followed. brian?

>> andrea mitchell in our washington newsroom tonight. andrea, thanks.