Madeleine Albright, who fled Communist rule in eastern Europe as a child and rose through the ranks of American diplomacy to become the first woman to serve as US secretary of state, died on Wednesday in Washington at the age of 84.
Albright’s family confirmed her death in a statement, saying the longtime diplomat had died of cancer. At the time of her death, Albright, who served as secretary of state from 1997 to 2001 in the administration of Bill Clinton, was a professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.
Albright’s family said they were “heartbroken” to announce her death, noting she had been “surrounded by family and friends” when she died.
Born Marie Jana Korbelova in Prague in 1937, Albright moved to the US as a refugee in 1948. She became a US citizen in 1957, graduated from Wellesley College and earned a PhD from Columbia University before entering public service.
She worked in the administration of Jimmy Carter under then national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, and later joined the faculty at Georgetown before serving as a foreign policy adviser to several Democratic politicians.
In 1993, Clinton appointed her ambassador to the UN. She held that role until he selected her as secretary of state, a job she had for the last four years of his administration. At the time, she was the highest-ranking female government official in US history.
As secretary of state, Albright played a leading role in western diplomacy in the post-Cold War era, promoting the expansion of Nato and supporting the alliance’s military intervention in Kosovo.
Presenting her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honour, in 2012, then-president Barack Obama said: “As the first woman to serve as America’s top diplomat, Madeleine’s courage and toughness helped bring peace to the Balkans and paved the way for progress in some of the most unstable corners of the world.”
In the decades after she left the White House, Albright remained an active public figure and published several books, including the 2003 memoir Madam Secretary and an autobiography of her childhood titled Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948.
She continued to comment regularly on public affairs. Albright became a vocal critic of former president Donald Trump, arguing in her final book, Fascism: A Warning, that he posed a threat to western democracy.
In the run-up to the November 2020 presidential election, Albright warned in an article for the Financial Times that Trump was “intentionally sowing the seeds of chaos, including the possibility of violent confrontations on election day and a flood of litigation in its wake”.
Just one month before her death, she wrote in an opinion piece for The New York Times that Russian president Vladimir Putin risked a “historic error” if he were to invade Ukraine.
In addition to her teaching job at Georgetown, Albright was also president of the Harry S Truman Scholarship Foundation; chair of the National Democratic Institute; and chair of the Defence Policy Board.
Source: Financial Times