Margaret Thatcher

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Categories: Politicians

Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher, the first woman to become prime minister of Britain and one of the most divisive political figures of the 20th century, died on April 8 after suffering a stroke. She was 87.

Margaret Hilda Roberts was born on Oct. 13, 1925, in the small town of Grantham. She came from humble beginnings; her mother, Beatrice, worked as a dressmaker, and her father, Alfred, was a grocer, a lay preacher and a local politician. She had one older sister, Muriel.

Thatcher studied chemistry at Somerville College, Oxford. After training under Dorothy Hodgkin, a pioneer of X-ray crystallography who won a Nobel Prize in 1964, Thatcher spent four years working as a research chemist. But her first love was politics.

Thatcher gave her first political speech when she was just 20 years old, and served as president of the student Conservative Association at Oxford. In her mid-20s, she ran for a seat in Parliament as a Conservative candidate in 1950 and 1951. Even though she lost both times, Thatcher received national publicity for being the youngest woman candidate in the country.

For most of the 1950s, Thatcher focused on raising a family. She married Denis Thatcher, a local businessman who ran his family’s firm, in 1951; the couple had twins, Mark and Carol, two years later. In her spare time, she studied to become a lawyer, and when she was admitted to the bar, Thatcher specialized in tax law.

In 1959, Thatcher was elected to Parliament representing Finchley, a north London constituency. It was the beginning of a meteoric rise.

Thatcher spent the next decade working a succession of jobs within Parliament, and in 1970, she achieved the rank of Education Secretary. Her right-wing platform did not sit well with students or academics, and it was during this time period that Thatcher developed a thick skin. When she decided to cancel a free school milk program for children over the age of 7, the tabloids described her as “Thatcher the Milk Snatcher” and “the most unpopular woman in Britain.”

Despite all the bad publicity, Conservative party members viewed Thatcher as strong, outspoken and ambitious. She engaged in an aggressive campaign against all male contenders, and in 1975, the party elected Thatcher their leader. Although she once said “I don’t think there will be a woman prime minister in my lifetime,” Thatcher made history in 1979 when she won the nation’s top job. She would serve three terms, and became one of Britain’s most influential leaders.

Domestically, Thatcher was a controversial figure. Nicknamed the “Iron Lady” in 1976, a moniker she adored, Thatcher worked hard to cultivate a reputation as a staunch conservative with an unwillingness to change her mind once it was made up. Throughout her political career, she strongly advocated for austerity measures, free-market democracies and smaller government.

“What we need now is a far greater degree of personal responsibility and decision, far more independence from the government, and a comparative reduction in the role of government,” she noted in her famous “What’s Wrong With Politics?” speech.

With this mindset, Thatcher reduced or eliminated many government subsidies to ailing businesses and tightened monetary policies. In the midst of an economic downturnn, these efforts forced a record 10,000 businesses to go bankrupt. Unemployment topped 3 million. And violent riots broke out in London, Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol and many other areas.

The Thatcher administration also instituted union reforms in 1980 and 1982, which inspired the miner’s union to launch a brutal and long-lasting strike. Thatcher remained steadfast, as was her wont, and eventually defeated the union.

During her second and third terms in office, Thatcher reformed the country’s educational system by introducing a national curriculum, and opened up the National Health Service to a measure of competition. These moves were not always popular, but their effects proved enduring.

“I am not a consensus politician,” Thatcher said. “I am a conviction politician.”

British relations with Northern Ireland were particularly contentious during this time. Hunger strikes and terrorist attacks ensued, and in 1984, Thatcher became the target of an Irish Republican Army assassination attempt. The IRA bombing at the Conservative Conference in Brighton did not harm her, but the explosion killed four people and wounded more than 30 others. Undaunted, Thatcher insisted that the conference continue, and even gave her speech as scheduled.

A fierce anti-communist, Thatcher recognized the West’s eventual victory in the Cold War. She famously invited Mikhail S. Gorbachev to Britain in 1984, three months before he even came into power as the leader of the Soviet Union. At the time, Thatcher declared: “I like Mr. Gorbachev. We can do business together.” Her rapport with this new ally and her friendly relationship with U.S. President Ronald Reagan contributed to these leaders ending the arms race of the 1980s.

Such kinship did not fade in difficult times, either. Thatcher backed Reagan’s decision to bomb Libya in 1986 — even though the mission outraged her own citizenry — and defended him during the IranContra affair that same year. When Reagan died in 2004, Thatcher was in ill health. However, she attended the funeral, and pre-recorded a video that described Reagan as “a great president, a great American, and a great man.”

Thatcher’s foreign policies did not always stand the test of time. When Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands in 1982, Thatcher ignored her allies’ calls for diplomacy and responded with overwhelming military force. During the 10-week war, 250 British servicemen and 1,000 Argentines were killed. The sinking of Argentina’s only cruiser, the General Belgrano, which left 323 Argentines dead, was particularly problematic because the attack took place outside of Britain’s declared exclusion zone. This short war cemented Thatcher’s take-no-prisoners reputation and helped her win a landslide victory for a second term in office. But the political ramifications of the conflict continue to be felt to this day.

Thatcher also came down on the wrong side of history after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. The prime minister argued against the reunification of East and West Germany, saying the change would destabilize Europe. The two Germanies reunited, to great success, in 1990.

Her final missteps involved railing against European integration, and the introduction of a poll tax on all residents rather than on property. Both actions cost her political capital within the party and led to her resignation in 1990.

Thatcher’s legacy is certainly a complicated one. She was reviled by Britain’s academic and artistic communities for cutting their financing. And progressives hated her for ending socialism, privatizing government industries and replacing compassion with greed as a core value. Yet Thatcher was respected by many, particularly in conservative circles, for leading the country out of a recession and through a war. She was credited with recognizing the dangers of global warming, and strongly encouraging other nations to repair the damaged ozone layer. She was also one of the first Western leaders to call for intervention in Bosnia after the Serb concentration camps were revealed in 1992.

Actress Meryl Streep, who won an Academy Award for portraying Thatcher in the 2011 film “The Iron Lady,” hailed the former prime minister as a pioneer for the role of women in politics.

“To have withstood the special hatred and ridicule, unprecedented in my opinion, leveled in our time at a public figure who was not a mass murderer; and to have managed to keep her convictions attached to fervent ideals and ideas — wrongheaded or misguided as we might see them now — without corruption — I see that as evidence of some kind of greatness, worthy for the argument of history to settle,” Streep said. “To have given women and girls around the world reason to supplant fantasies of being princesses with a different dream: the real-life option of leading their nation; this was groundbreaking and admirable.”

Thatcher was named Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven after stepping off the political stage. In 1991, she received the U.S. Medal of Freedom from President George H. W. Bush. Thatcher’s husband of more than 50 years died in 2003. In 2004, her son Mark was arrested for financing an alleged plot by mercenaries to overthrow the president of Equatorial Guinea in west Africa. He pleaded guilty in 2005 and was given a four-year suspended sentence.

During the final years of her life, Thatcher wrote several books and toured the world as a lecturer. Her speaking career ended in 2002 following a series of small strokes and the onset of dementia. In accordance with the family’s wishes, Thatcher will not be accorded a full state funeral. Instead, she will receive a ceremonial funeral with military honors. A service at St. Paul’s Cathedral will be followed by a private cremation.

British Prime Minister David Cameron paid tribute to his predecessor on Monday morning.

“We’ve lost a great leader, a great prime minister and a great Briton,” Cameron said.

Photo by Chris Collins of the Margaret Thatcher Foundation.

Margaret Thatcher: A Life In Pictures



Mark Balelo

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Categories: Business, Hollywood

Mark BaleloMark Balelo, an auction house owner who made multiple appearances on the A&E reality TV show “Storage Wars,” was found dead on Feb. 11. He was 40.

Balelo was one of the deep-pocketed buyers featured on the show that depicts storage-unit auctions. The former owner of a chain of thrift stores, Balelo had a knack for bargaining and finding treasure among trash.

Nicknamed “Rico Suave” for his flamboyant style, Balelo once hosted a live auction right before Halloween while dressed as Superman. He carried a “man purse” (or “murse”), which he considered his good-luck bag; the murses became so popular with fans that he later sold them on eBay.

Balelo also was instrumental in helping Nicolas Cage recover a mint-condition copy of a 1938 Action Comics book that was stolen from the actor’s storage locker. The comic book was valued at $1 million.

Balelo owned Balelo Inc., a business that specializes in asset liquidations and closeout sales. Until recently, he ran a gaming store called The Game Exchange. Although Balelo loved working — “My work is my hobby nowadays” — his favorite past-times included flying private planes, listening to music, hanging out with friends and going to Vegas. A strong competitor with a no-holds-barred attitude, he was best known on “Storage Wars” for beating the competition by showing up to auctions carrying more than $50,000 in cash.

Balelo was arrested over the weekend for alleged possession of a controlled substance. He was reportedly distraught after being released from jail.

One of Balelo’s employees found his body inside a business warehouse in Simi Valley, Calif., on Monday morning. Armando Chavez, senior deputy medical examiner, refused to provide any information as to Balelo’s cause of death. An autopsy will be conducted on Feb. 12.

–This obituary previously appeared in The Huffington Post

[Update – Feb. 13, 2013: Balelo’s death has been declared a suicide by the Ventura County medical examiner’s office. His body was also found in a business warehouse in Simi Valley, Calif. An earlier report stated that he was found in his home garage.]


Emmett Forrest

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Categories: Misc.

Emmett ForrestWilliam Emmett Forrest had always been a collector. As a child, he collected the little things that appeal to young boys: rocks, leaves, matchbook covers.

But as an adult, Forrest developed a passion for collecting memorabilia and artifacts about his dear friend, Andy Griffith. Most Americans know Griffith as the actor who played the kind and thoughtful Sheriff Andy Taylor on the 1960s sitcom “The Andy Griffith Show.” Others remember him as the cantankerous defense attorney Ben Matlock from the long-running mystery series “Matlock.” To Forrest, Griffith was a childhood pal who grew up to become a pop culture icon and Grammy Award-winning gospel singer, and he wanted to honor the achievements of a hometown boy who did good.

After spending years collecting memorabilia from his friend’s life and career, Forrest founded The Andy Griffith Museum in Mount Airy, N.C., in 2009. Since its opening, the museum has welcomed nearly 200,000 visitors from all over the world. Hundreds of items from Griffith’s career in TV, movies and music, including props from “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Matlock,” are collected and displayed inside the 1,500-square-foot building. Many of the items were donated by Griffith himself, including the signs from the Mayberry Courthouse doors and a suit worn by Andy as Matlock.

“Andy wanted me to have this collection because he knew I would never sell it. He knew that it would be available for the public to see,” Forrest said in an interview with the Mount Airy News.

Griffith died on July 3, 2012.

The town of Mount Airy, where Forrest and Griffith grew up, is considered by many to be the inspiration for the fictional Mayberry from “The Andy Griffith Show.” The two sleepy hamlets even shared similar landmarks, such as the Snappy Lunch Counter, Floyd’s City Barber Shop and Wally’s Service Station. Mount Airy is also home to the Andy Griffith Playhouse and the Andy Griffith and Opie statue, which stands in front of The Andy Griffith Museum.

Life in Mount Airy was idyllic for Forrest and Griffith. Their summer days were often spent playing with friends in the streets and creeks around town. Forrest, who was described by those who knew him as a quiet, humble, friendly and hard-working, left the area during World War II to serve in the U.S. Navy. He returned after the war to raise a family. After his retirement from Pike Electric, Forrest was active in the Surry Arts Council, which sponsors the annual Mayberry Days festival each fall. It was this work, along with the launch of the museum, that helped reinvent the town as a tourist destination.

“Emmett was a true gentleman and an honest man. He was a person I could trust –- a rare thing for Andy and me. He was a loving husband, father, and a very special friend,” Cindi Griffith, Andy Griffith’s widow, stated.

Forrest died on Jan. 12 of cancer. He was 85.


Richard Ben Cramer

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Categories: Media, Writers/Editors

rbcramer Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Richard Ben Cramer died Jan. 7 of complications from lung cancer. He was 62.

Born in Rochester, N.Y., Cramer studied at Johns Hopkins University and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. After working as a political reporter for The Baltimore Sun, Cramer joined The Inquirer in Philadelphia. During his seven years at the paper, he rose from transportation reporter to acclaimed foreign correspondent. In 1979, he won the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting for his masterful coverage of the Middle East.

According to The New York Times, Cramer also wrote for numerous magazines, including Esquire, Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated and Time. However, he was best known for writing the 1992 book, “What It Takes: The Way to the White House,” which focused on the 1988 presidential campaign. Although it didn’t sell well and was critically panned, the tome was eventually viewed as one of the greatest books about electoral politics, The Inquirer reported.

“It’s insufficient to say that Cramer’s 1,047-page tour de force on the 1988 presidential race is the best book ever written about a campaign. It is that. But what makes it so valuable, so rewarding, just so much damn fun is that it illustrates why politics and journalism is so much damn fun,” Jonathan Martin of Politico wrote.

Cramer also penned books about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Bob Dole, Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio. In the last years of his life, Cramer was reportedly working on a book about the New York Yankees and Alex Rodriguez; however, his publisher sued him in December 2012 for failing to complete the project.

–This obituary previously appeared in The Huffington Post


Nora Ephron


Categories: Hollywood, Writers/Editors

Nora EphronAcclaimed filmmaker and essayist Nora Ephron, who almost singlehandedly defined the romantic comedy genre of the 1980s and 1990s, died on June 26 of pneumonia brought on by acute myeloid leukemia. She was 71.

Born in New York and raised in Beverly Hills, Ephron was the daughter of screenwriters Henry and Phoebe Ephron, who wrote “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and “Desk Set.” Though life at home was often difficult — her father was in and out of mental hospitals and her mother was an alcoholic — writing became the family business. Nora and her sisters, Delia and Amy, all grew up to become screenwriters while her sister Hallie became a journalist and novelist.

After graduating from Wellesley College and working briefly as an intern in the Kennedy White House, Ephron moved back to New York City. There she toiled in the mail room at Newsweek, launched a satirical newspaper and became a reporter for the New York Post. Over the next four decades, Ephron would pen essays for numerous publications — including Esquire, The New York Times Magazine and The Huffington Post — and develop a reputation as one of America’s best known humorists.

Ephron began working on screenplays in the 1970s after penning a rewrite of William Goldman’s script for “All the President’s Men.” Although her version was not used in the final film, the experience gave her the opportunity to begin writing for the big screen. Concerned that Hollywood wasn’t ready for films by or about women, however, Ephron decided to try her hand at directing as well. Her directorial debut was “This Is My Life,” co-written with her sister Delia, and starring Julie Kavner as a single mom who wants to become a stand-up comedian.

Ephron’s stories featured strong female characters, realistic heroes and a charming blend of humor and romance. Her tales of happily ever after were often scorned by critics, but they found a devoted audience of female moviegoers who were always eager to see the latest Ephron “chick flick.”

In 2008, “When Harry Met Sally…,” which Ephron wrote, was ranked #6 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 10 greatest films in the romantic comedy genre. “Sleepless in Seattle” and “You’ve Got Mail,” both penned and directed by Ephron and starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, became blockbusters at the box office, prompting studio execs to begin greenlighting more movies for and by women.

Hollywood also honored her creative achievements with three Academy Award nominations for screenwriting (“Silkwood,” “When Harry Met Sally…” and “Sleepless In Seattle”). Ephron’s most recent film, “Julie & Julia,” based on the life of Julia Child and a New York-based blogger who aimed to emulate her, garnered Ephron more than a dozen award nominations and earned Meryl Streep a Golden Globe for best performance by an actress.

When she wasn’t toiling on a script or a directing a film, Ephron also wrote several plays and essay collections, including “I Feel Bad About My Neck,” which topped The New York Times bestseller list. In her final years, she continued to publish essays on a variety of subjects, from aging and feminism to politics and food.

“You do get to a certain point in life where you have to realistically, I think, understand that the days are getting shorter, and you can’t put things off thinking you’ll get to them someday,” Ephron told NPR in 2010. “If you really want to do them, you better do them. There are simply too many people getting sick, and sooner or later you will. So I’m very much a believer in knowing what it is that you love doing so you can do a great deal of it.”

Ephron wed three times. Her first marriage to novelist Dan Greenburg ended in divorce. Her second marriage to investigative journalist Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame also ended in divorce after she learned he had cheated on her with a mutual friend. That experience inspired her to write the 1983 novel “Heartburn,” which was later adapted into a feature film starring Streep and Jack Nicholson.

Ephron is survived by her third husband, novelist/screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi, with whom she was married for more than two decades, and two sons, Jacob and Max. As she noted in her six-word biography that was published in “Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs By Writers Famous and Obscure” edited by Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser: “Secret to Life, Marry an Italian.”

In her 2010 collection “I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections,” Ephron dedicated an entire chapter to the things she’ll miss after she dies. The top 5 were: “My kids, Nick, Spring, Fall, Waffles.”

(Photo by Charles Eshelman/Getty Images for AOL. Used with permission.)


–This obituary previously appeared in The Huffington Post

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