The industrious daughter of a shopkeeper, Thatcher won scholarships, worked her way to Oxford, earned degrees in chemistry and law, and finally landed in Parliament at age 34. A decade later, she’d maneuvered up the Tory ranks and landed the token Cabinet position for women, as education minister.
Then — by sheer chance, it’s said — Tory leader Edward Heath abandoned his candidacy at the last minute, and Thatcher jumped into the breach. When she visited Heath’s office to tell him, he didn’t even look up.
“You’ll lose,” he said. “Good day to you.”
But Thatcher didn’t lose. Instead, she chose her timing and issues carefully. And she did not back down.
“Who governs Britain?” she famously asked. At the time, and having nothing to do with luck, it was very clear who led the country.
—Adapted from “Margaret Thatcher: Champion of free minds and free markets,” Paul Johnson, Time.