Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright died this week at the age of 84. She was a trailblazer and pioneer. She was also one of the first American officials to meet with Vladimir Putin.
On the eve of the war, Albright wrote her final op-ed piece for the NYT. Its title was prescient: Putin Is Making A Historic Mistake.
In it, she discussed that long ago meeting with the newly minted Russian dictator:
Sitting across a small table from him in the Kremlin, I was immediately struck by the contrast between Mr. Putin and his bombastic predecessor, Boris Yeltsin.
Whereas Mr. Yeltsin had cajoled, blustered and flattered, Mr. Putin spoke unemotionally and without notes about his determination to resurrect Russia’s economy and quash Chechen rebels. Flying home, I recorded my impressions. “Putin is small and pale,” I wrote, “so cold as to be almost reptilian.” He claimed to understand why the Berlin Wall had to fall but had not expected the whole Soviet Union to collapse. “Putin is embarrassed by what happened to his country and determined to restore its greatness.”
One month ago, Albright saw what was in store for Putin:
Instead of paving Russia’s path to greatness, invading Ukraine would ensure Mr. Putin’s infamy by leaving his country diplomatically isolated, economically crippled and strategically vulnerable in the face of a stronger, more united Western alliance.
Infamy, thy name is Vladimir Putin.
Madeleine Albright lived a remarkable life. She was a two-time refugee from tyranny. First the Nazis then the Communists. She lived the American dream by climbing the foreign policy ranks reaching the pinnacle in 1997.
Albright’s father was a Czech diplomat and keeper of family secrets:
It was not until after she became secretary of state that she accepted proof that, as she had long suspected, her ethnic and religious background was not what she had thought. She learned that her family was Jewish and that her parents had protectively converted to Roman Catholicism during World War II, raising their children as Catholics without telling them of their Jewish heritage. She also discovered that 26 family members, including three grandparents, had been murdered in the Holocaust.
Despite suspecting it for years, Albright was flummoxed by the revelation but kept working:
She likens the timing of the revelation to being “the first woman to represent my country in the running of a marathon. Just as the race was starting, I was given a very heavy package. I not only had to hold it, I had to unwrap it as I ran.”
Pioneers are tough. They keep going in tough times. Madeleine Albright was tough as nails but always had a helping hand for younger women seeking to rise. She famously said, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.”
What a life.
What a broad.
R.I.P. Secretary Albright.
Finally, as you can see from the featured image, Madeleine Albright was a jazz buff one of whose causes was the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. Monk gets the last word: