Madeleine Albright, the first female US secretary of state and one of the most influential stateswomen of her generation, died Wednesday of cancer at age 84, her family announced.
Albright, who came to the United States as an 11-year-old political refugee, rose to serve as the country’s top diplomat under president Bill Clinton from 1997 to 2001.
In a statement, Albright’s family said she died “surrounded by family and friends,” and paid tribute to “a loving mother, grandmother, sister and friend” as well as a “tireless champion of democracy and human rights.”
Born in Prague in 1937, Albright’s family, who were Jewish although she did not know of her heritage until later in life, fled ahead of the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939 — moving first to England, then to America a decade later.
She lost several family members to the Nazi extermination camps.
After studying political science, Albright made her entry into politics as a fund raiser, then a congressional aide — and entered president Jimmy Carter’s administration working for Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was Carter’s national security advisor.
When Clinton took office in 1993, he tapped Albright as ambassador to the United Nations, and in 1996 she was named his secretary of state.
Albright — whose global influence at the height of her career was compared to that of Margaret Thatcher in Britain — knew she was part of a new generation of women in public service.
“It used to be that the only way a woman could truly make her foreign policy views felt was by marrying a diplomat and then pouring tea on an offending ambassador’s lap,” Albright once said.
“Today, women are engaged in every facet of global affairs.”
At her former department, spokesman Ned Price remembered Albright as “a trailblazer as the first female secretary of state and quite literally opened doors for a large elements of our workforce.”
“I know there are many people in this building who are grieving and who will be grieving today,” he added.