Trailblazer: Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who died aged 84 last month. President Joe Biden and top diplomats paid tribute to Albright, the first woman to hold the post, this week. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
It started with grand tributes to one of America’s lions.
“With her kindness and her grace, her humanity and her intelligence, she turned the tide of history,” President Joe Biden said Wednesday at the funeral of Madeleine Korbel Albright.
The 1,400 heads atop dark suits nodded solemnly in one of our nation’s grand and dark rituals, under the neo-Gothic nave of Washington’s National Cathedral where we celebrate and mourn America’s giants.
She went “neck to neck with the toughest dictators,” Biden said.
The choir sang.
That’s what our nation praises – courage, sagacity and “cojones” (a word she used in foreign policy, her former boss, President Bill Clinton, remembers.) And she did it all. making history as a woman.
“Welcome to our brotherhood,” Henry Kissinger told Albright when she was confirmed as the 64th – and first female – United States Secretary of State in 1997.
“Henry,” Albright told him. “It’s not a brotherhood anymore.
But while Albright’s unlikely rise commands respect, it was learning about his quiet leadership at home that moved us at the celebration of his life.
World and national leaders arrived in motorcades and with security details to pay their respects to the single mother of three who – like many of us – feared she was never enough.
“I think every woman’s middle name,” she recently told Amy Poehler, “is guilt.”
While his fellow lions received their briefings, sipped the coffee handed to them, Albright woke up his daughters: “Up and over to them!” Judge Anne Korbel Albright, one of Albright’s twin daughters, remembers.
“Usually mum would wake up hours earlier to work on her doctoral thesis, to prepare our breakfasts and organize our backpacks,” the daughter told world leaders who had never had to do such a thing. .
This world-stage warrior who helped lead America in the post-Cold War era and championed freedom around the world also sent notes to her daughters at summer camp, knitted, skied with them and took their calls no matter where she was.
“We are often asked what kind of mother she was,” said Alice Albright, the other twin. “She was the type to call every day. Sometimes twice. My time was 6:35 p.m. How are the boys? How was the job? When is your next trip? Are you going running tonight? Don’t forget it’s dark outside.
The cinematic story of her 84-year-old political refugee who arrived on the American coast aboard the freighter SS America when she was 11 was “kind of a microcosm of late 20th century Europe and the United States,” Bill Clinton said.
Her daily life – a middle-aged woman whose husband left for a younger woman – was also part of American history. A little discussed in the great nave.
“Think of her letting us maneuver a little red wagon full of Girl Scout cookies in the spring or campaign fliers in the fall along the crowded sidewalks and cobblestone streets of our neighborhood,” said Katherine Albright, her youngest. daughter.
The mood in this cathedral changed when the women spoke. The grand, understated state funeral that Washington is familiar with has faded a bit. I could feel it in the audience. Relaxed postures. Handkerchiefs were sticking out of fancy handbags, eyes dabbed. Even some of the other lions started crying.
There was even applause, when Hillary Clinton ended her powerful and charming eulogy by telling the coffin in front of her holding Albright’s body that “we will never forget you.”
Albright struggled with the duality of her life, the eternal struggle of the working mother. And she said, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”
The struggle begins at the playground, where moms in heels and suits have said goodbye to the kids, knowing they won’t see them again until the sun goes down.
“When [the girls] growing up, a lot of other women made me feel guilty,” Albright told Amy Poehler, in an interview two years ago. “It’s part of the ‘special place in hell,’ because we judge each other a lot each other. So I was nervous about whether I was a good mother or not.
She is like all of us. Except she was killing dictators and stopping genocide while fearing that her daughters would one day blame themselves for not being there for all the Boy Scout meetings.
The deep affection these girls have for Mom, their love stories, their tears, their own successful lives, answers all of Albright’s doubts.
Albright was deeply intentional about her support for women.
Years ago, she took the time to meet my mother, who grew up in the same area of Prague – Smichov – as Albright.
And when Albright interviewed a friend of mine for one of the top jobs at her investment firm, the first question she asked him was not about global strategy and impact. “Tell me about your mother,” she told him.
After a few presidents told the world how to remember, his youngest daughter added another image she wanted us to remember:
“In her dark blue suit, preparing for her historic confirmation hearing as America’s first female secretary of state,” Katherine Albright said. “What is she doing in the waiting room?” Brush our hair and give us each a Tic Tac.
American lions are leaders, thinkers, champions, and yes, mothers at just 5 feet tall.