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Dr. Madeleine Jana Korbel Albright, the first female US Secretary of State, passed away on March 23, 2022. A statement released by her family revealed that the 84-year-old had been suffering from cancer. The highest-ranking woman in the history of the American government at the time of her appointment, Dr. Albright played a crucial role in shaping US foreign policy in the 1990s.
Albright was just two years old when German forces under the control of Adolf Hitler invaded her home country of Czechoslovakia. Fearing persecution, her parents — both of Jewish origin — fled to England. The family returned to Czechoslovakia after World War II ended in 1945, only to leave again in 1948. This time, the family sought refuge in the US to escape from the communist Soviet regime.
The then 11-year-old Albright and her family settled in Colorado, where her father worked as a professor for International Relations at the University of Denver. After completing her undergraduate degree at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, Albright went on to earn a doctoral degree at New York's Columbia University. In 1982, Albright joined Georgetown University as a research professor of international affairs. She also served as a foreign policy advisor for several presidential campaigns.
In 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed Albright the US Ambassador to the United Nations. At the UN, she fought passionately for human rights and urged countries to take joint action to thwart dictators in countries like Haiti and Rwanda.
Albright rapidly gained a reputation as a brilliant analyst of world affairs and in 1996, was confirmed as the first US female Secretary of State — the president's chief foreign affairs adviser. During her four-year tenure, she spearheaded NATO's successful intervention to end the Kosovo conflict — the fight between ethnic Albanians, ethnic Serbs, and the government of Yugoslavia. She was also instrumental in the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol — an international treaty between industrialized nations and economies to limit and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Among Albright's many strengths was the ability to explain complex topics to civilians. To educate children about the dangers of landmines, she worked with DC Comics to create educational comic books featuring Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. The graphic novels were translated and distributed to all landmine-affected countries.
After leaving public office in 2001, Albright returned to teaching at Georgetown University, where she focused on training and inspiring the next generation of female politicians. She also wrote a number of books, including one about her dramatic childhood. In 2012, President Barack Obama awarded Albright the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. While Albright was proud of her various achievements, her biggest joy came from knowing that she had helped break the political glass ceiling for women. Two of the three secretaries of state after her — Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton — were female!
Rest in Peace, Dr. Albright
Resources: houstonpublic.org, CNN.com, NPR.com, State.gov.