Madeleine Albright, the first women to ever serve as U.S. Secretary of State, died on Wednesday at age 84. Her family announced her death in a statement, sharing that she had cancer and was “surrounded by family and friends” when she passed.
Albright’s political career began in the 1970s when she worked for then-Senator Ed Muskie of Maine. She’d later go on to serve as a counselor on foreign policy to Democratic presidential and vice presidential hopefuls Michael Dukakis and Geraldine Ferraro. She became Ambassador to the United Nations in 1993 and served until 1997, and then served as Secretary of State from 1997 to 2001. Both positions were given to her by then-president Bill Clinton. Her title as Secretary of State made her the highest-ranking woman in US government history until that point.
Born in Prague to a Jewish family that later converted to Catholicism and was forced into exile during World War II, Albright emigrated to the U.S. in 1948. She attended Wellesley College before earning a PhD in political science from Columbia University. It was only later in life that she learned of her Jewish heritage, and that she had lost more than two dozen relatives during the Holocaust.
During her years as a diplomat, Albright was a staunch advocate of the Clinton administration’s foreign policy, and, with her fluency in five languages, became a popular figure on the international stage. In 1999, she urged the NATO military intervention in Kosovo, which successfully ended the ethnic cleansing of Albanians. In 2012, President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
In 1996, Albright gave an infamous interview to 60 Minutes in which she was asked if the half million Iraqi children then believed to have died due to UN sanctions was “worth it.”
“I think this is a very hard choice, but the price—we think the price is worth it,” Albright replied at the time. (She later apologized for the statement, and the death count was shown to be inflated.)
After her retirement from public office, Albright wrote multiple books, most recently: Fascism: A Warning, in which she analyzed the rise of fascism in pre-World War II Italy and Germany and sounded an alarm about our imperiled democracy under Donald Trump.
“He libels immigrants and the countries from which they come,” she wrote in a 2018 New York Times op-ed. “His words are so often at odds with the truth that they can appear ignorant, yet are in fact calculated to exacerbate religious, social and racial divisions. Overseas, rather than stand up to bullies, Mr. Trump appears to like bullies, and they are delighted to have him represent the American brand. If one were to draft a script chronicling fascism’s resurrection, the abdication of America’s moral leadership would make a credible first scene.”
Albright also served as a professor at Georgetown University, appeared as herself on Gilmore Girls and Parks and Recreation, curated an exhibition of her jewelry collection, founded and chaired the Albright Stonebridge Group consulting firm, and authored multiple other books, including her 2003 memoir Madame Secretary.
The statement from Albright’s family noted that her death was caused by cancer. “She was surrounded by family and friends,” the message reads. “We have lost a loving mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, and friend.”