Madeleine Albright, the veteran diplomat who came to the United States as a child refugee, studied foreign languages and policy while raising a family on the way to becoming the first woman to lead the US Department of State, died Wednesday at age 84.
In a statement announcing her death, the Albright family said they were “heartbroken” to announce that she had passed away from cancer while “surrounded by family and friends”.
“We have lost a loving mother, grandmother, sister, aunt and friend,” they said.
Born Marie Jana Korbelová (later anglicised to Korbel) in 1937, Ms Albright spent the first two years of her childhood in Europe. Her father, a Czech diplomat, served as a press attache at the Czech embassy in Belgrade, Serbia, before the rise of Hitler forced her family into exile in 1939.
After spending the Second World War in London, her family returned to Czechoslovaka before her father sent her abroad — first to Switzerland, then London, then to finally to the United States with the rest of her family in 1948, arriving as refugees fleeing Soviet-backed Communist Czech government.
She graduated from secondary school in Denver in 1955, attended Wellesley College on a full scholarship, and in 1959 married journalist Joseph Medill Patterson Albright shortly after graduation.
While raising twin girls, Ms Albright began studying Russian, and in 1962 began studying international relations at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, eventually earning a Master’s degree, and later a Ph.D from Columbia University.
After entering government service as a Senate legislative aide, she was recruited to the National Security Council in 1978 by Zbigniew Brzezinski, then-president Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser.
Ms Albright returned to academia after Mr Carter’s 1980 election loss to Ronald Reagan, and would spent the next 12 years out of government. But when Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992, he nominated her to lead the US mission to the United Nations, making her the first woman ever to do so.
As the US Ambassador to the United Nations, she drew some criticism for the slow US response to the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, but endeared herself to Mr Clinton after describing Cuba’s 1996 shutdown of two planes flown by an exile group as “not cojones” but “cowardice”.
And when Mr Clinton’s first Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, left his post at the start of Mr Clinton’s second term, it was Ms Albright who was nominated as his replacement.
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in