UPDATED, with comments from Bill Clinton and Joe Biden: Madeleine Albright, who as the first female U.S. Secretary of State and blazed a trail for the likes of Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice, died today of cancer, her family said. She was 84.
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Albright had a prestigious career even before President Bill Clinton made Albright the first female Secretary of State. She first worked in the White House for the National Security Council in the Carter Administration.
When Bill Clinton was elected in 1992, Albright helped assemble the new administration’s NSC. Clinton soon appointed her U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, a position she held until 1997, when she became Secretary of State. Albright served as Secretary of State until Clinton left office in 2001. She served until her passing on the board of the Council on Foreign Relations. In 2012, Albright received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama.
Born Marie Jana Korbelova on May 15, 1937, she was the daughter of a Czechoslovakian diplomat whose family fled the Nazi invasion of that country. In the U.S., with her name now Anglicized to Madeleine, she met Joseph Medill Patterson Albright. The two were married in 1959 and had three daughters, Alice Patterson Albright, Anne Korbel Albright and Katherine Medill Albright. They divorced in 1982.
As Secretary of state, Albright pushed for NATO’s expansion, intervention in the Balkans to stop genocide and ethnic cleansing, and championed democracy across the globe.
Just last month, as the impending Russian invasion of Ukraine put a spotlight back on NATO, the former Soviet republics and the specter of ethnic cleansing in the region Albright wrote prophetically in an essay for the New York Times, “Instead of paving Russia’s path to greatness, invading Ukraine would ensure Mr. Putin’s infamy by leaving his country diplomatically isolated, economically crippled and strategically vulnerable in the face of a stronger, more united Western alliance.”
Albright appeared multiple times as herself on the CBS series Madam Secretary, in which Tea Leoni played a secretary of state. Albright also made cameos on Parks and Recreation and Gilmore Girls, and was a frequent talk-show guest.
She recounted her life in Madam Secretary: A Memoir, published in 2003. Among her other books was Read My Pins: Stories From a Diplomat’s Jewel Box, which described the symbolism behind the brooches she wore on diplomatic missions. She traced the practice to when she was ambassador the UN and had made critical remarks about Saddam Hussein. There was a poem in the Baghdad papers that compared me to an ‘unparalled serpent,’ ” she told Variety in 2009. “I had a snake pin and I decided to wear it when we were dealing with Iraq.”
Her family announced the news of her death on Twitter today.
“We have lost a loving mother, grandmother, sister, aunt and friend,” their statement said. “A tireless champion of democracy and human rights, she was at the time of her death a professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, chair of Albright Stonebridge Group, part of Dentons Global Advisors, chair of Albright Capital Management, president of the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation, chair of the National Democratic Institute, chair of the U.S. Defense Policy Board, and an author.”
President Joe Biden ordered all flags on U.S. government buildings at half staff through March 27 to honor Albright.
“Madeleine was always a force for goodness, grace and decency — and for freedom,” Biden said in a statement.
On CNN, Clinton said that he recently talked to Albright about the war in Ukraine.
“I talked to her two weeks ago,” the former president said. “She was in strong voice and her mind was sharp as a tack, and she was not about to focus on how long she had to live or didn’t have to live, because she knew she was getting good care and couldn’t do anything about that. She spent the entire conversation talking about how Ukraine had to be defended….That’s all she wanted to talk about. She was happy and she was upbeat and she didn’t want to venture in to her health challenges.”
Read the full statement below.
Below is a statement from the family of @Madeleine: pic.twitter.com/C7Xt0EN5c9
— Madeleine Albright (@madeleine) March 23, 2022
Leoni posted a message on Twitter, writing, “To all of us very lucky women who were touched by the honorable Madeleine Albright, we lost The OG M-Sec. I hope we honor her imitable commitment to fight for this democracy. She never neglected to mention it, not once. I’ll remember that. And her easy and contagious and fabulous laugh.”
She never once neglected to mention it, not once. I’ll remember that. And her easy and contagious and fabulous laugh.
With love and respect,
— Téa Leoni (@TeaLeoni) March 23, 2022
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