- Albright’s admirers remember Albright as a champion of democracy, human rights and peace.
- Barack and Michelle Obama, Al Gore and Condoleezza Rice are among more than 1,400 expected to attend.
- President Joe Biden is set to eulogize Albright. The Clintons will also speak.
WASHINGTON — Prominent Democrats, friends and family of Madeleine Albright will gather Wednesday morning at Washington National Cathedral to celebrate the life of the nation’s first secretary of state, who arrived in the U.S. as a young girl from wartorn Czechoslovakia before becoming a trailblazing diplomat and icon.
President Joe Biden is set to deliver the eulogy of Albright, who died March 23 at 84 years old after a fight with cancer.
Former President Bill Clinton, who nominated Albright as secretary of state in 1996, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will also speak at the funeral, along with Albright’s three daughters.
More than 1,400 people are expected to attend the ceremony, scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. ET, including former President Barack Obama, former first lady Michelle Obama, former Vice President Al Gore and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Albright’s admirers remember her as a champion of democracy, human rights and peace whose journey from war-torn Europe embodied the American story.
Obituary:Madeleine Albright, groundbreaking secretary of state and feminist icon, dies at 84
“Few leaders have been so perfectly suited for the times in which they served,” Bill Clinton said after her death. “Because she knew firsthand that America’s policy decisions had the power to make a difference in people’s lives across the world, she saw her jobs as both an obligation and opportunity. And she made the most of them.”
Last year, Albright eulogized former Secretary of State Colin Powell at his funeral, also held at Washington National Cathedral, in one of her last public appearances.
Bill Clinton nominated Albright, then his U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, shortly after his reelection to replace former Secretary of State Warren Christopher as the 64th secretary of state following her long career in Democratic politics and as a diplomat.
Albright was confirmed by the Senate in 1997, and went on to shape Clinton’s U.S. foreign policy in Iraq and Bosnia and Herzegovina, pushing for military action in both, as well as the conflict in Kosovo.
She was the first U.S. official to meet with Vladimir Putin after he became president of Russia in 2000. That same year, shortly before Clinton’s second-term ended, she traveled to North Korea to meet with Kim Jong Il, marking the first trip to North Korea by a U.S. diplomat.
Biden called Albright “a force for goodness, grace and decency – and for freedom.”
“Hers were the hands that turned the tide of history,” Biden said in a statement following her death, adding that “she defied convention and broke barriers again and again” to make the country she loved even better.
Trumpeter Chris Botti, singer Judy Collins and legendary jazz pianist Herbie Hancock will perform musical tributes at Albright’s funeral. The music, which will include pieces by Czech composers, is intended to represent various aspects of Albright’s life.
Former teaching assistants of Albright’s classes at Georgetown University will serve as ushers. Pallbearers include family and friends including former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, chairman of the National Democratic Institute, where Albright was the founding vice chair.
Obama awarded Albright the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012. After her diplomatic career, Albright, a businesswoman and author of several bestselling books, including three memoirs, became a symbol of female empowerment.
More:Madeleine Albright made history, then insisted on helping other women make theirs.
Albright told USA TODAY in 2020 that she had “a trick” to make sure her position was clear in a foreign policy arena dominated by men.
“After too much of the small talk, I would say, ‘I have come a long way, so I must be frank.’ Then I really did make a point of what I needed to say,” she said. “I don’t think frankly that I was rougher, tougher or anything than any man. I just think people were surprised to hear that language from a woman.”
Born in Prague in 1937, Albright – then Madeleine Korbel – fled to England with her family in 1939, less than two weeks after Nazi Germany invaded Czechoslovakia. Though her family was of Jewish ancestry, she was raised Roman Catholic and learned only in 1997, at the time of her confirmation as secretary of state, that three of her grandparents died in the Holocaust.
Albright’s family lived in the cellar of an apartment in Notting Hill before returning to Prague after World War II. They moved to the U.S. in 1948 after the communist takeover of Czechoslovakia. Her family settled in Denver, where her father worked as a dean of the school of international relations at the University of Denver.
“I lived in many, many places,” Albright said in 2020 when she was recognized as one of USA TODAY’s Women of the Century. “I was asked to describe myself in six words at dinner, which were ‘worried, optimist, problem solver, grateful American.’”
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.