When news broke of Putin’s attack on Ukraine, I sensed an unusual quiet from former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright – her knowledge of international affairs, particularly Russia and Eastern Europe, and her decades-long fight for democratic freedom across the globe made me believe surely she had something to say. Her silence was due to a struggle with cancer followed by her death on Wednesday, March 23.
With her passing, our nation – and the global community beyond – has lost a staunch defender of democracy and human rights. Her legacy will extend for generations who benefit from her work and her example. Perhaps the thing I will remember most fondly is her candor – a witty frankness emboldened by intelligence and much-earned respect.
My 2019 Interview with Secretary Albright (original blog linked here)
In May of 2019, I had the distinct honor of moderating an interview with Secretary Albright. It was one of the most enlightening conversations of my lifetime, and I was delighted with her humor. When we began, I told her I was so honored because she was always one of my “three people to invite to dinner – living, dead, or fictional.” She wanted to know who the other two were and I said, “Thomas Jefferson.” Without hesitation she quipped, “I had his job,” and then roared with laughter when I told her my third choice was Sherlock Holmes.
“Patently Absurd” Putin
In recent weeks, unafraid to address the Russian leader she once described as “so cold as to almost be reptilian,” Albright penned a final op-ed for The New York Times. She called his then-intent to invade Ukraine a “historic error.”
In her last conversation with President Clinton just a few weeks ago, she said Putin’s claim that Ukraine was a Nazi country was “patently absurd.”
A Woman in a Man’s World
As the first female secretary of state, some expressed concern that she would not have the respect of leaders from Arab nations. After earning their respect as the US ambassador to the United Nations, the Arab leaders came forward in support of her, stating they had no problem working with Ambassador Albright, and they’d have no problem working with Secretary Albright.
When she felt like international leaders were dodging conversations, she launched with her tried-and-true opener, “I’ve come a very long way, I’m afraid I must be frank…,” and then she got straight to the point.
An Inspiration for Immigrants
During a naturalization ceremony, Albright was approached by an Ethiopian man who said, “Only in America could a refugee from Africa meet the Secretary of State.” And she replied, “Only in America could a refugee from Central Europe become Secretary of State.”
“It took me a long time to find my voice. But having found it, I’m not going to shut up.”
I can’t help but consider the correlation of Madeleine’s famous pins and brooches – which she was well-known for wearing to punctuate her opinion about something or someone – to the dissent collar worn by Ruth Bader Ginsberg. It reminds me of the cape or emblem a superhero might don at precisely the right moment. As we each find our voice, perhaps we, too, should consider a signature statement piece for a little added emphasis.