- 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 — The nation’s most powerful Democrats for the past quarter-century, world leaders, friends and family of Madeleine Albright celebrated the life Wednesday of the nation’s first woman secretary of state, who arrived in the U.S. as a young girl from war-torn Czechoslovakia before becoming a trailblazing diplomat and icon.
“In the 20th and 21st century, freedom had no greater champion than Madeleine Korbel Albright,” said President Joe Biden, eulogizing Albright at her funeral at Washington National Cathedral. He called Albright a “force of nature” who through “goodness, grace and humanity turned the tide of history.”
Albright died March 23 at 84 years old after a fight with cancer, leaving a legacy as a defender of democracy, human rights and peace whose whose journey from war-torn Europe embodied the American story.
“Madeline understood her story was America’s story,” Biden said. “She loved to speak about America as the indispensable nation to her. The phrase was never a statement of arrogance was about It was about gratitude for all this country made possible for her.”
More than 1,400 people, each wearing face masks at the request of the Albright family, packed the cathedral. Biden sat in the front row next to Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Chelsea Clinton and Al Gore. The group represented seven of the past eight Democratic presidential nominees.
Bill Clinton nominated Albright, then his U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, shortly after his 1996 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.
Clinton recalled his last conversation with Albright two weeks before she died. He asked her how she was feeling, but she was more interested in talking about the future of the world in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“‘The only thing that really matters is what kind of world we’re going to leave to our grandchildren,'” Albright told Clinton, the former president recalled. “I will never forget that conversation as long as I live. It was so perfectly Madeleine.”
“That question is kind of up in the air but not because of Madeleine Albright.”
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Bill Clinton credited Albright with helping to stop genocide in Kosova, where peace has now maintained for 26 years, and leadership in the war in Bosnia. In attendance for the funeral was Salome Zourabichvili, president of Georgia, Vjosa Osmani-Sadriu, president of Kosovo and Albin Kurti, prime minister of Kosovo.
Clinton said “God gave her a fine mind, a wealth of experience” and laughed about the time Albright danced a tango during a trip to Latin America.
“She made us laugh. She made us cry. some of us, she made mad,” Clinton said, adding that “she knew what she believed in. She knew what was hard. She knew what she was up against. And she wanted other people to feel the same way and then to talk about it instead of killing each other over. That’s basically her simple political philosophy.”
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.
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.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who lost her 2016 bid to become the nation’s first woman president, said Albright “didn’t just help women. She spent her entire life counseling, cajoling, inspiring and lifting up so many of us who are here today.”
She recalled something Albright taught her students at Georgetown University, where Albright taught classes after her career in diplomacy.
“Silence may be golden she told them,” Clinton said, “but it won’t win many arguments. You have to interrupt. When dictators dragged their feet or ambassadors filibustered, Madeline never hesitated to speak up. And just in case they didn’t get the message, she would put on a snail pin to signal her impatience.”
Hillary Clinton concluded her remarks joking that the angels in heaven better be “wearing their best pins and putting on their dancing shoes.”
“Because, as if Madeline believed, there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t support other women, they haven’t seen anyone like her yet.”
Trumpeter Chris Botti, singer Judy Collins and legendary jazz pianist Herbie Hancock performed musical tributes at Albright’s funeral. The music, which will include pieces by Czech composers, was intended to represent various aspects of Albright’s life.
Former teaching assistants of Albright’s classes at Georgetown University served as ushers. Pallbearers included 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.
Opinion: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.