Madeleine Albright: Former US secretary of state dies aged 84

Albright remembered for being a 'trailblazer' as first woman secretary of state

Madeleine Albright, the first woman to serve as US secretary of state, has died of cancer at age 84, her family said on Wednesday.

“We have lost a loving mother, grandmother, sister, aunt and friend,” her family said.

Former president Bill Clinton and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton remembered her as an “extraordinary human being”.

“Few leaders have been so perfectly suited for the times in which they serve,” the Clintons said in a joint statement. “Madeleine's passing is an immense loss to the world in a time when we need to learn the lessons of her life the most.”

Born in Prague in what is now the Czech Republic in 1937, she came to the US as a refugee in 1948 and became a naturalised citizen in 1957.

She first pursued an academic career, joining the academic staff at Georgetown University with a focus on Eastern European studies. She also became involved in politics, working as a foreign policy adviser for two Democratic vice presidential candidates.

Albright became the US ambassador to the UN in 1993 and pressed for a tougher line against the Serbians in Bosnia during the Yugoslav Wars.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the current US envoy to the UN, called Albright a “trailblazer and a luminary” in remarks on the General Assembly shortly after news of her death was announced.

Mr Clinton chose Albright as his secretary of state and following her confirmation in 1997, she served in that role until the end of his administration in 2001.

At the time, she was the highest-ranking woman in the history of US government. She was not in the line of succession for the presidency, however, because she was a naturalised citizen.

Albright was known for her direct and plain-speaking manner as well as for her simple attire, which she often accessorised with brooches or decorative pins.

Former president Barack Obama awarded Albright the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012, the highest US civilian honour.

“It's people of people like Madeline that the story of America is, ultimately, one of hope — an upwards journey,” he said in a statement.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said that Albright, as the first woman secretary of state, “quite literally opened doors for a large element of our workforce".

“Madeline Albright was a force. Hers were the hands that turned the tide of history,” President Joe Biden said in a statement released by the White House.

“Madeleine was always a force for goodness, grace, and decency — and for freedom,” he added. "[First lady] Jill [Biden] and I will miss her dearly and send our love and prayers.”

Former president George W Bush and former first lady Laura Bush shared a statement that read: “Laura and I are heartbroken by the news of Madeline Albright's death. She lived out the American dream and helped others realise it".

Mr Bush also revealed a painting piece he had created of Albright.

Many in the Middle East, however, do not have such fond memories of Albright, specifically for a statement she made during a 60 Minutes interview with Lesley Stahl regarding sanctions placed on the country following the 1991 Gulf War.

“We have heard that half a million [Iraqi] children have died. I mean, that is more children than died in Hiroshima,” Stahl said. “And, you know, is the price worth it?”

“I think that is a very hard choice,” Albright answered, “but the price, we think, the price is worth it.”

Albright later wrote in her memoir, Madame Secretary, that she regretted making that statement.

“As soon as I had spoken, I wished for the power to freeze time and take back those words,” she wrote.

“My reply had been a terrible mistake, hasty, clumsy and wrong. Nothing matters more than the lives of innocent people. I had fallen into the trap and said something I simply did not mean. That was no one's fault but my own.”

Agencies contributed to this report

Updated: April 27, 2022, 3:38 PM