Madeleine Albright

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Madeleine Albright, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, the first female secretary of state and longtime professor at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service, died March 23 in Washington, D.C. She was 84.

As secretary of state, Ms. Albright frequently briefed Vatican diplomats on situations from the peace process efforts in the Middle East to tensions in Kosovo.

In nearly 40 years at Georgetown, she inspired students “not only to understand the world, but to serve the world.

Generations of her students went on to do just that, a legacy that is almost incalculable in its reach,” said Joel Hellman, dean of the university’s Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Born Marie Jana Korbel in Prague in then-Czechoslovakia, she was the daughter of a diplomat, Joseph Korbel. Her family was Jewish and became Catholic when she was 5 as a protection from the Nazis, something her parents kept from the family.

Ms. Albright changed her name to Madeleine when she was in school in Switzerland. She and her family came to America in 1947 from Czechoslovakia.

She did not find out about her family’s religious roots until a Washington Post reporter uncovered it in a 1997 profile on her before she began her term as U.S. secretary of state in President Bill Clinton’s administration. At that time, she also learned that 26 family members, including three grandparents, had been killed in the Holocaust.

When she learned about her family, she told The New York Times: “I think my father and mother were the bravest people alive. They dealt with the most difficult decision anyone could make. I am incredibly grateful to them, and beyond measure.”

In 1959, she married Joseph Medill Patterson Albright. The couple, who divorced in 1983, had three daughters.

Religion and global policy was something Ms. Albright talked about and also wrote about. Her 2006 book, “The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs,” is one of her seven bestselling books.

During a lecture at Georgetown University, 10 years after that book was published, she said writing such a book was not something she ever thought she would do, but came from seeing religion not getting the place it deserved in policy discussions, especially with Americans, who “believe so deeply in the separation of church and state.”

Ms. Albright, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012 and spoke Czech, French, Polish, Serbo-Croatian and Russian, was clearly comfortable on the diplomatic stage but also in conversations with students.

She was the Michael and Virginia Mortara endowed distinguished professor in the practice of diplomacy at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service and was a frequent winner of the school’s outstanding professor award.

Ms. Albright is survived by her three daughters: Alice, Anne and Katie; her sister, Kathy Silva; her brother, John Korbel; and six grandchildren. —CNS