WASHINGTON (AP) — Madeleine Albright, a child refugee from Nazi- and then Soviet-dominated eastern Europe who rose to become the 1st female U.S. secretary of state and a mentor to many current and former American statesmen and women, has died of cancer, her family said Wednesday. She was 84.
A lifelong Democrat who nonetheless worked to bring Republicans into her orbit, Albright was chosen by former President Bill Clinton to be America's top diplomat in 1996, elevating her from her post as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, where she had been only the second woman to hold that job.
As secretary of state, Albright was the highest-ranking woman in the history of U.S. government. She was not in the line of succession to the presidency, however, because she was a native of Prague. The glass ceiling that she broke was universally admired, even by her political detractors.
In announcing her death on Twitter, Albright's family said she died of cancer and was surrounded by family and friends: “We have lost a loving mother, grandmother, sister, aunt and friend,” the statement said.
Outpourings of condolences came quickly.
“Laura and I are heartbroken by the news of Madeleine Albright’s death," said former President George W. Bush. “She lived out the American dream and helped others realize it.... She served with distinction as a foreign-born foreign minister who understood firsthand the importance of free societies for peace in our world. I respect her love of country and public service, and Laura and I are grateful to have called Madeline Albright our friend.”
President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken had been informed of Albright's death as they were flying to Brussels for an emergency meeting of NATO leaders about Ukraine.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. envoy to the United Nations, honored Albright as a “trailblazer and a luminary” in remarks on the General Assembly floor shortly after news of her death emerged.
“The impact that she has had on this building is felt every single day and just about every single corridor,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price, who once co-taught a class with Albright at his alma mater, Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, where Albright was a professor for decades before and after her time in government.
“She was a trailblazer as the first female Secretary of State and quite literally opened doors for a large elements of our of our workforce,” he said.
In 2012, President Barack Obama awarded Albright the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, saying her life was an inspiration to all Americans.
Albright remained outspoken through the years. After leaving office, she criticized President George W. Bush for using “the shock of force” rather than alliances to foster diplomacy and said Bush had driven away moderate Arab leaders and created potential for a dangerous rift with European allies.
However, as a refugee from Czechoslovakia who saw the horrors of both Nazi Germany and the Iron Curtain, she was not a dove and played a leading role in pressing for the Clinton administration to get militarily involved in the conflict in Kosovo.
She also toed a hard line on Cuba, famously saying at the United Nations that the Cuban shootdown of a civilian plane was not “cojones” but rather “cowardice.”
She advised women “to act in a more confident manner” and “to ask questions when they occur and don’t wait to ask.”
“It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent,” she told HuffPost Living in 2010.