A Tribute to Madeleine K. Albright

March 24, 2022  • Aspen Strategy Group

The Aspen Strategy Group and our members mourn the passing of our long-time member and dear friend, Secretary Madeleine K. Albright. 

Madeleine was an exceptional diplomat and generous mentor: a force of intellect, force of nature, and always a force for good. Her steadfast values, tireless work ethic, deep love of country, quick wit, and fierce loyalty set her apart—far apart. It was an honor to call her a friend and have her serve as a dedicated member of our group.

Among the many well-sung accomplishments in her life, Secretary Albright is of course most often remembered as being the first female U.S. secretary of state and honored for all that she achieved in that role. She continued to advance American foreign policy well after her time as secretary ended, with the substance and style that was uniquely hers. 

To all our discussions and initiatives at the Aspen Strategy Group, she brought her experience, passion, and boundless energy for tackling seemingly intractable policy challenges for over 19 years. We will remember her too as an active listener and—in true ASG form—always eager to learn and have her viewpoint challenged. At our last meeting in fall of 2021, on the topic of democracy, she memorably reminded us that while democracies have recently felt on the back foot, they are resilient and “freedom is poised for a comeback.” May we all help make that true.

Throughout her career Secretary Albright devoted much time to mentoring the young professionals and students around her. She took pride in helping carry the torch of our co-founder Lt. General Brent Scowcroft by taking special interest each year in mentoring and speaking privately with our ASG Scowcroft Fellows on the sidelines of our meetings. 

The lives she impacted and improved were many. We are grateful that ours and those of our members were among them.

We have lost a beloved member and friend. It was a privilege to know her and to be better for knowing her.  

Joe Nye, Condi Rice, Anja Manuel, Niamh King, and Leah Bitounis

ASG Member Tributes:

“Madeleine will be remembered as one of our nation’s great diplomats. She possessed a remarkable capacity for both a clear vision and the ability to achieve it. She also recognized the importance of inclusion here at home as the bedrock of democracy. I want to reflect on her human side, too, her capacity to be a great and joyful friend. We met during the Carter Administration, when we were two women in a sea of men. Our place had to be won every day, and she did it with seriousness and solid judgment. I remember her saying to me when President Carter lost, ‘well, at least you are a lawyer, so you have a career ahead of you, even if I don’t.’ She couldn’t imagine the career she built, but as she took on the challenges of the world around her she never lost her humor, as came out in her puckish call to me when I was nominated by President Clinton to be Attorney General: “do you think I should tell the president that two nominees for his cabinet have dated the same man?” She was a loving friend and I will miss her terribly.” Zoë Baird

“Since I was blessed with the opportunity to meet and get to know Madeleine Albright in the 1990’s I have not made a decision about my career without consulting her. Her understanding of the world, how to have impact in that world and the importance of faith and family made her advice holistic as was her life and her contributions. Madeleine always had time and important thoughts to guide individuals and the world. Her optimism, her force of intellect, her generosity of spirit and her grace have made this world a better place.” Sylvia Burwell

“The United States lost today an elder statesman and towering figure in the field of foreign relations. I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Secretary Albright, a woman who lived an amazing life and was an inspiration to so many…Secretary Albright was so vibrant and her experience made her a force to be reckoned with. She helped build coalitions with our allies and refused to give in to the bullying of dictators. She never failed to speak her mind, and she was confident that she could help make the world a better place. Even after leaving political office, Secretary Albright’s insights and expertise helped shape U.S. diplomacy and foreign policy.

My thoughts are with her family and all of her friends. She will be missed.” -Excerpt from Dianne Feinstein’s Press Release

“One of the many experiences that showed Madeleine’s constant effort to do personal favors that solidified friends around the world.

The Czech Republic Ambassador to NATO, Jiri Sedivy, was one of my favorite colleagues . One day he sent me a picture of his father, who was one of the leaders in protests against Soviet domination of Czechoslovakia. The picture is of Madeleine , when she was honored by the Czech government for all of her efforts to help them create their democracy and join EU and NATO. She is sitting in a chair waiting for the award and the Minister of Defense is kneeling in front of her kissing her hand , while his friend in the movement, Jiri’s father is standing beside him. Jiri thought I would like to see this since we had talked about my friendship and regard for Madeleine.

Unbeknownst to Jiri, I sent the picture to Madeleine and asked her to sign it and return to me. She did. And when I gave it to Jiri, he had tears in his eyes. He told me later, his father framed it and it is hanging in his office today!

Her special touch will be missed by all who knew and worked with her in every corner of the globe.” –Kay Bailey Hutchison

“Madeleine K. Albright… shaped a generation of foreign policy leaders — gently and usually with a smile. She knew every senior official, mentored many of them and managed to say a cheery word even to people who took ‘dour’ as a compliment.

Even into her 80s, Albright had the style of a college undergraduate, gossiping late into the night with her countless friends in the United States and abroad. At the opening dinner of each summer’s gathering of the Aspen Strategy Group, she would don a cowgirl dress and join other former luminaries in singing show tunes and, always, ‘America the Beautiful’…

When thinking about the men who were giants in foreign policy, such as Brzezinski and Henry Kissinger, we sometimes wonder why they didn’t reproduce themselves as strategists. It’s very hard to think of a younger version of Kissinger, for example.

But Albright’s proteges surround us. Wendy Sherman, her devoted colleague for decades, is deputy secretary of state, and nearly every member of the Biden administration foreign policy team can trace a lineage to Albright. Albright had dizzying achievements in life. But she knew exactly where she stood and she never lost her balance.” -Excerpt from David Ignatius’ The Washington Post Remembrance of Madeleine Albright

“I have many memories of Madeleine, from many places over many years…

So many of my memories of Madeleine are around Aspen — her love of Aspen and indeed of Colorado, her pride in her glorious cowboy boots, her infectious pleasure at singing Danny Boy next to Nick Burns at our opening dinner every year at Diane Feinstein and Dick Blum’s ranch. I also remember her delight at finding a wonderful jeweler in town; she had a collection that extended well beyond her famous pins. Indeed, I just loved the feminine side of her; she was plenty tough, as she had repeated occasion to show the world, and I can’t say that I ever saw a ‘soft’ side, exactly, but she was a woman I could relate to as a woman, and not just in terms of ambition.

When I cast back over various interactions over the years, I remember interviewing with Strobe Talbott in late November 1996 for the position of Director of Policy Planning, a job I finally got in 2009. Our first and long-awaited son was barely a month old at the time; I knew that I was to get the job and unlikely to be able to do it. But I was simply so excited at the prospect of being able to work for the FIRST WOMAN SECRETARY OF STATE that I put my cap in the ring and went for the interview. Her appointment was simply exhilarating in a way that is impossible to capture for young women today.

I also remember an occasion that is funny in retrospect but certainly was not at the time, when Madeleine was at her supportive best. In 2013 Paul Holdengraber, who was then in charge of programming for the New York Public Library, asked me to moderate a discussion between Madeleine and Sandra Day O’Connor on the theme ‘Can Women Have It All.’ I of course said yes and the three of us prepared for what was supposed to be a 90 minute session, with me providing questions in advance.

On the appointed day we took the stage before an audience of some 500 people. I began asking the questions we had agreed on, and everything was going fine until about an hour in, when Justice O’Connor interrupted me in mid-question to say that we were out of time. We actually had 30 minutes left, but it’s hard to contradict a Supreme Court Justice, much less one who definitely seemed ready for the event to be over.

Madeleine, predictably, came to my rescue. As the Village Voice later reported:

Albright, on the other hand, stole the show. Wearing one of her signature pins and telling colorful stories about her days in diplomacy and her path to the State Department, she was also considerably more forthcoming in speaking about what it meant to be a woman in government when there were hardly any.

“People didn’t think a woman could do it,” she said. “I did the carpool, befriended their wives, had them over for dinner, and [the men] thought, ‘Well, how did she get to be secretary of state?’” She also discussed the importance of women learning not to take arguments personally. “Men fight and they go have a beer,” she said. “Women think, ‘Ah, he doesn’t like me.’” Both women said that they had to be aware of their position as constant role models for women worldwide, and that they had to “do it better than anyone else,” as Albright put it, “so we didn’t screw it up for everyone else.”

As the news of Madeleine’s passing hit the news, Paul Holdengraber tweeted the picture of the event below. It captures a moment that makes me smile and tugs at my heart. Madeleine at her intelligent, witty, sparkling best. As I wrote in my tribute, ‘I hope that she is now in that special place in heaven for women who help other women.'” –Anne-Marie Slaughter

Dr. Slaughter also wrote this formal tribute published by Project Syndicate about what Secretary Albright meant to women of her generation in foreign policy, and generations to come.  

Tributes from Twitter: