Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the first woman ever to hold that office, has died Wednesday after losing her battle to cancer, at age 84.
Albright -née Korbel- had three daughters with her newspaper heir husband, Joseph Medill Patterson Albright. They were married for more than 20 years before divorcing in 1982.
Once a child refugee who fled her native Czechoslokavia to escape the Nazi invasion, Albright served as the 64th Secretary of State between 1997 and 2001 under then-President Bill Clinton. She was credited with leading US foreign policy after the Cold War. In 2012 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.
Born May 15, 1937, in Prague, she and her family moved to the United States in 1948, where she became a naturalized US citizen in 1957.
She attended Wellesley College in Massachusetts and studied political science, graduating in 1959. After her Ph.D. from Columbia, she worked for several politicians in Washington, DC, conducted international research, and went on to be a major foreign policy advisor for the Democratic Party.
“We are heartbroken to announce that Dr. Madeleine K. Albright, the 64th Secretary of State and the first woman to hold that position, passed away earlier today,” her family said in a statement.
“She was surrounded by family and friends. We have lost a loving mother, grandmother, sister, aunt and friend.”
Albright was a pivotal figure during the Clinton years. She was a blunt and brilliant analyst of world affairs who shattered the political glass ceiling. She was first appointed US ambassador to the United Nations when Clinton took office in 1993 before becoming America’s top diplomat from 1997 to 2001, from where she actively promoted NATO's expansion and the military intervention in Kosovo.
“The impact that she has had on this building is felt every single day in just about every single corridor,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Wednesday.
“She was a trailblazer as the first female secretary of state and quite literally opened doors for a large element of our workforce.”
Born in Prague on May 15, 1937, Albright’s father was a Jewish diplomat who fled Czechoslovakia with the family as Nazis invaded the country in 1939. They escaped to the UK and converted to Catholicism to avoid persecution. But Albright, who came to the US as a refugee in 1948, was not aware of her Jewish heritage until after she was sworn in as Secretary of State.
In an interview from February that year, she said that her family had kept her background a secret — and that three of her grandparents had been murdered in the Holocaust.
Albright was critical of President George W. Bush for using “the shock of force” rather than alliances with Arab leaders to foster diplomacy. She also toed a hard line on Cuba, famously calling the Cuban shootdown of a civilian plane a move made with “cowardice,” not “cojones.”
“There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other” is one of her quotes by which she will be remembered. She also insisted women should ”act in a more confident manner” and “ask questions when they occur and don’t wait to ask.”
Obama has said she was an inspiration to all Americans, while Bush called her passing a great loss for Americans: “Laura and I are heartbroken by the news of Madeleine Albright’s death,” said the former president. “She lived out the American dream and helped others realize itÖ. She served with distinction as a foreign-born foreign minister who understood firsthand the importance of free societies for peace in our world.”
Albright spoke various languages, including Czech, French, Polish, Russian and English.