On Wednesday, April 27, the State Department family joined current and former U.S. Presidents, Secretaries of State, Foreign Ministers, Ambassadors, Congress, friends, and family at the Washington National Cathedral for the Celebration of Life of the late Secretary Madeleine Korbel Albright. Albright was the first female Secretary of State, having arrived in the U.S. as a young girl from war-torn Czechoslovakia before becoming a renowned diplomat and leader.
“Freedom endures against all odds in the face of every aggressor because there are always those who will fight for that freedom. And in the 20th and 21st century, freedom had no greater champion than Madeleine Korbel Albright,” said President Joseph Biden at the late Secretary’s memorial service.
As the world and over 1,400 in-person participants watched President Biden, former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and others pay tribute to the late Secretary Albright’s legacy, current and former State Department members were closely involved in the ceremony—serving as readers, intercessors, and pallbearers.
During the program, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shared lessons she learned from her predecessor having also served as a world leader and following in her footsteps as a female Secretary of State. “Silence may be golden, (Albright) told them,” said Secretary Clinton. “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.”
Additional readers included current Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. A friend of more than 35 years, Sherman served as Counselor to Secretary Albright at the U.S. Department of State. Former Secretary Condoleezza Rice, the sixty-sixth U.S. Secretary of State, was once a student of Secretary Albright’s father, Josef Korbel, at the University of Denver.
Suzanne A. George, current Chief of Staff at the U.S. State Department, served as an intercessor at the program. George worked with Secretary Albright for nearly 20 years, serving as her Deputy Chief of Staff while she was Secretary of State, and her Chief of Staff after leaving government. Together with Secretary Albright, she built a global advisory firm and an investment firm bearing Albright’s name.
Standing alongside George during the intercession was the honorable Susan E. Rice, Assistant to the President and the Director of the U.S. Domestic Policy Council at the White House. Secretary Albright was a close friend of Rice’s parents, Lois Dickson Rice and Emmett J. Rice. Rice grew up with Secretary Albright’s daughters, all attending the National Cathedral School in Washington, D.C. Throughout her career, Secretary Albright was a mentor for Rice, including during her tenure as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs at the State Department.
As a powerful symbol of dedication to their mission to protect, the pallbearers who escorted Albright during the ceremony included her Diplomatic Security Service protective detail from both her time as U.S. Ambassador to the UN and Secretary of State.
Honorary Pallbearers included family, friends, and leaders of organizations for which Secretary Albright volunteered or partnered, including our beloved George C. Rowland, the current Senior General Services Officer in the Secretary of State’s Executive Office. Rowland began working at the State Department for late Secretary Schulz 38 years ago. He worked closely with Secretary Albright for eight years while she served as both U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and Secretary of State.
Late Secretary Albright’s Legacy
“One of my #WomenOfCourage is Madeleine Albright. During her diplomatic career as U.S. Ambassador to the UN and the first female Secretary of State, her tenacity and effectiveness left the U.S. stronger and more respected globally. She’s a role model for me and so many of our diplomats.” – Secretary Antony Blinken
For more on Secretary Albright’s legacy, read Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman’s op-ed in USA Today here.
About the Author: Roberta Mather serves as the Senior Advisor for Employee Communications and Acting Director in the Bureau of Global Public Affairs, Office of Planning and Events at the U.S. Department of State.