once said. "Although we didn't have all mod cons [modern conveniences the house
had no hot water upstairs and the toilet was outside in the yard], it was bright
as a new pin. We were brought up in a very religious background. Caring for
others ran very strongly so there was a tremendous amount of voluntary work."
Roberts recognized early that he had an exceptional daughter. She won her first scholarship at the age of 10 and was top of her class every year but one. She did not underestimate herself. When she won first prize for poetry recitation at a drama festival her schoolmistress said:
"You were lucky, Margaret."
"I wasn't lucky, " came the reply. "I deserved it."
Thatcher's father paid for elocution lessons to eradicate the Lincolnshire burr from her speech. A scholarship took her to Oxford a rare distinction for a girl from a small provincial school where she became only the second woman president of the University Conservative Association. She sang in the Bach Choir, studied chemistry and after graduation got a job as a research chemist at British Xylonite, working on a new bonding agent for metal and plastic.
In 1949 she impressed the chairman of the Conservative Party in Dartford in Kent and became their parliamentary candidate. At 24 she was the youngest woman in the campaign. She lost but she pushed up the Tory share of the vote. Another member of Deptford party was Denis Thatcher, whose family owned a paint factory. One night he offered her a lift home. They were married five weeks before the 1951 election in which she again increased her share of the vote without winning.
"Was it love at first sight?, she was once asked.
"No," she said. "There were two elections to fight first."
She moved to a research job in the laboratory of a food combine and studied patent and tax law in her spare time. She was called to the bar as a barrister four months after she gave birth to twins in 1953. Denis Thatcher, who sold his company to Burmah Oil for $1 million and was a director of the oil company until his retirement, said they had decided to try to have two children, a boy and a girl.
"Typical of Margaret," he said, "she produced the twins, Mark and Carol, and avoided the necessity of a second pregnancy."
After the birth of her children, Thatcher looked for a safe seat and was adopted by the upper middle-class district of Finchley in London. She was elected in 1959 and her maiden speech, in support of her own bill requiring local councils to admit the press to their sessions, brought her to the attention of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan.
In 1969 Macmillan appointed her joint parliamentary secretary at the Ministry of Pensions and she was on her way to 10 Downing Street, a goal she once admitted she began thinking about when she was 14. When the Tories were out of power 1964-70, she worked on land, transport, power and economics. In 1966 she scored a spectacular success in the opposition reply to the Labor budget. It was said she read every budget and finance speech for 20 years in preparation.
When the Tories returned to power in 1970, Prime Minister Edward Heath named Thatcher education secretary and, although she fought against it in the Cabinet, she had to supervise one of the most unpopular measures in years, cutting off free milk to schoolchildren. Children chanted "Thatcher, Thatcher, milk snatcher," and on one occasion she wept.
There were demonstrations against her that verged on riots when she proposed more university control over student unions.
Thatcher was admired for the way she stood up to critics. "Ted Heath in drag," sneered Labor's rough Denis Healey. Meanwhile, there was discussion in the Conservative Party about the future of Heath. When he lost his third election to the Labor Party in 1974, Thatcher challenged him for the party leadership.
She was elected in 1975. Heath never forgave her.
Until she became prime minister, Thatcher arose at 6:30 a.m. to make her husband's breakfast and straighten the house. She needed only 4 or 5 hours sleep a night.
"I had to sacrifice my home life ever since I entered Parliament," she said.
She was exceptionally pretty as a girl. Her husband is credited with persuading her to tint her dark hair corn yellow, a better combination with her piercing blue eyes. She once modeled tweed suits for a newspaper layout. She was always well dressed; her mother was a dressmaker.
"I love expensive clothes," she once said, "so I always go to the sales."
She collected porcelain, liked opera and the theater, watched tennis and golf on TV, read detective thrillers for relaxation, drank Cointreau or scotch and soda at the end of a hard day's work, and rated Dover sole her favorite food.
She claimed she never read anything written about her.
She was quotable.
Asked about women's place in public life she once said: "In politics if you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman."
On another occasion: "No one would have remembered the Good Samaritan if he'd only had good intentions. He had money as well."
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