President Joe Biden called former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright a “force of nature” on Wednesday at a memorial service attended by former presidents in honour of the first woman to serve as the United States’ top diplomat.
Albright, who served as secretary of state from 1997 to 2001, died last month of cancer. The professor, businesswoman, mother and grandmother was heralded as a trailblazer after her death.
Biden praised Albright for her grace, humanity and intellect, and said she changed the tide of history.
“Her story was America’s story,” he said. “She loved to speak about America as the indispensable nation. … It was about gratitude for all this country made possible for her. It was a testament to her belief in the endless possibilities that only America could help unlock around the world.”
Biden, who is leading the U.S. effort to support Ukraine after Russia’s invasion, said Albright was a big reason why NATO alliances are so strong today.
Former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also gave tributes. Albright served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 1993 to 1997 during President Clinton’s first four-year term before becoming secretary of state, and was an active supporter of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns.
Albright and her family fled the Nazis in her native Czechoslovakia during World War Two. They eventually settled in the United States, where Albright grew to become a tough-talking diplomat, famous for a sometimes sharp tongue and a collection of pins she would wear to send political messages.
Albright’s memorial service was held at the Washington National Cathedral. More than 1,400 people were expected to attend, according to a spokesperson for the family, including foreign ministers, ambassadors and members of Congress.
The family requested that attendees wear masks inside the cathedral; Washington has experienced a dramatic uptick in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks.
Albright’s three daughters were to give tributes. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was to give a reading from the Bible.
Former President Barack Obama, former first lady Michelle Obama and former Vice President Al Gore attended along with current administration officials including Secretary of State Antony Blinken.