(NEXSTAR) — The United States’ first female secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, has died at the age of 84, her family said in a statement Wednesday.
“We are heartbroken to announce that Dr. Madeleine K. Albright, the 64th U.S. Secretary of State and the first woman to hold that position, passed away earlier today,” the statement read in part. “The cause was cancer. She was surrounded by family and friends. We have lost a loving mother, grandmother, sister, aunt and friend.”
President Bill Clinton chose Albright as America’s top diplomat in 1996, and she served in that capacity for the last four years of the Clinton administration.
At the time, she was the highest-ranking woman in the history of the U.S. government. She was not in the line of succession for the presidency, however, because she was a native of Czechoslovakia.
The former secretary of state had also made headlines in February amid Russia’s imminent invasion of Ukraine, writing in a New York Times op-ed that Russian President Vladimir Putin would be making a “historic error” if he launched a war.
Albright remained outspoken through the years. After leaving office, she criticized President George W. Bush for using “the shock of force” rather than alliances to foster diplomacy and said Bush had driven away moderate Arab leaders and created the potential for a dangerous rift with European allies.
However, as a refugee from Czechoslovakia, she was not a dove and played a leading role in pressing for the Clinton administration to get militarily involved in the conflict in Kosovo. She also toed a hard line on Cuba, famously saying at the United Nations that the Cuban shootdown of a civilian plane was not “cojones” but rather “cowardice.”
Albright was born Marie Jean “Madlenka” Korbel on May 15, 1937, in Prague, according to her biography from the U.S. Office of the Historian. Her father, Josef, served as a diplomat to Yugoslavia until the 1948 communist coup in Czechoslovakia when the family moved to Denver, Colorado.
Albright would later change her name and became a U.S. citizen in 1957. She studied political science at Wellesley College and graduated with honors, going on to earn a Ph.D. in public law and government at Columbia University.
She worked for the National Security Council during the Carter administration and advised Democrats on foreign policy before Clinton’s election. He nominated her as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. in 1993.
Following her service in the Clinton administration, she headed a global strategy firm, Albright Stonebridge, and was chair of an investment advisory company that focused on emerging markets.
She also wrote several books. Albright married journalist Joseph Albright, a descendant of Chicago’s Medill-Patterson newspaper dynasty, in 1959. They had three daughters and divorced in 1983.
See the family’s full statement below:
We are heartbroken to announce that Dr. Madeleine K. Albright, the 64th U.S. Secretary of State and the first woman to hold that position, passed away earlier today. The cause was cancer. She was surrounded by family and friends. We have lost a loving mother, grandmother, sister, aunt and friend.
Madeleine Albright, born Marie Jean Korbelova, was a native of Prague who came to the United States as a refugee in 1948 and rose to the heights of American policy-making, receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012, the nation’s highest civilian honor. A tireless champion of democracy and human rights, she was at the time of her death a professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, chair of Albright Stonebridge Group, part of Dentons Global Advisors, chair of Albright Capital Management, president of the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation, chair of the National Democratic Institute, chair of the U.S. Defense Policy Board, and an author. She founded the Albright Institute for Global Affairs at Wellesley College, served as a lifetime trustee of The Aspen Institute, and was a member of the chapter of the Washington National Cathedral. She was 84 years old.