Hillary Clinton Gives Poignant Farewell to Madeleine Albright: 'Angels Better Be Wearing Their Best Pins'

At Wednesday's memorial, the former secretary of state shared memories of the woman who paved her way and became a friend — as Albright’s three daughters remembered the “best mom ever”

Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton. Photo: McNamee/Getty

Hillary Clinton paid tribute to a remarkable woman, whose footsteps she followed and whose friendship she cherished, at a memorial service Wednesday for the first female American secretary of state, Madeleine Albright.

Clinton, who also served as secretary of state, shared personal memories with family, friends and colleagues from around the globe who gathered at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., to remember Albright, who died March 23 of cancer at age 84.

"She was irrepressible, wickedly funny, very stylish and always ready for a laugh," Clinton, 74, said from the podium of Albright, who was fond of dancing.

"She brought the same energy to her friendships as she did to her diplomacy," Clinton continued. "Yes, it's true. She did teach the foreign minister of Botswana the 'Macarena' and snuck off early from an official event to do the tango in Buenos Aires. She was even invited to compete on Dancing with the Stars after she tore up the dance floor at Chelsea's wedding in the arms — I would add — of a much younger, very handsome man."

When they first met, Albright introduced herself as a fellow Wellesley College graduate, Clinton remembered. From that moment on, "the seeds of our friendship were sown," she said, adding that they called each other "59 and 69," a reference to the years they graduated from the liberal arts school in Massachusetts.

Their bond, Clinton said, grew through the years as the two women pursued careers of public service which took them around the world — from Albright's "beloved Prague," where they walked "in the midst of a driving rainstorm which left us both laughing so hard we hardly noticed," to the Hollywood set of Madame Secretary, a favorite show they both appeared on with another U.S. secretary of state, the late Colin Powell.

"Madeleine was always making a point to the script writer: 'That would not have happened,' " Clinton said. "And finally, Colin said to her, 'Madeleine, it's fiction, it's a story.' She said, 'I know but I want them to get it right.' "

Clinton revealed her influence on her husband, former President Bill Clinton — who also spoke at Wednesday's service — in the years before he nominated Albright first as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and later as secretary of state.

"It's been said that I urged my husband to nominate her," Secretary Clinton said. "Unlike much that's said, this story is true. And I was thrilled when he agreed."

President Joe Biden, Barack Obama
From left: President Joe Biden, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty

She also told an anecdote that demonstrated Albright's influence on her. "She led the American delegation to the historical U.N. conference on women in Beijing in 1995 and she urged me to push the envelope in women's rights I delivered there," Secretary Clinton recalled, referencing her speech as first lady when she declared, "Women's rights are human rights."

She told of how Albright stood up to Chinese government minders on that trip, telling them to "get out of our way" as they met with activists, as well as to world leaders.

"When dictators dragged their feet or ambassadors filibustered, Madeleine never hesitated to speak up," she said. "And just in case they didn't get the message, she would put on a snail pin to signal her impatience."

And she reminded mourners, who also included Presidents Joe Biden and Barack Obama, of some of Albright's final concerns and advice for the country in the wake of an anti-democratic attack on the U.S. Capitol and on the cusp of Russia's war in Ukraine.

"Until the end she was still in a hurry to do good," Secretary Clinton said. "And she warned us in her book on fascism that yes, it can happen here, and time and courage are of the essence."

"Once again, we must heed the wisdom of her life and the cause of her public service. Stand up to dictators and demagogues from the battlefields to the halls of our own Capitol," she continued. "Defend democracy at home just as vigorously as we do abroad. Live up to the ideals of the country that welcomed an 11-year-old refugee, sailing into New York Harbor on a ship called SS American and made her secretary of state."

Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright listen to a speaker after Clinton received the 2013 Lantos Human Rights Prize during a ceremony on Capitol Hill in Washington on December 6, 2013.
Nicholas Kam/AFP via Getty

Secretary Clinton praised her friend's service to the country as well as to the students she taught at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service and to women and girls around the world through her leadership.

"She didn't just help other women, she spent her entire life counseling and cajoling, inspiring and lifting up so many of us who are here today," Secretary Clinton said. "So, the angels better be wearing their best pins and putting on their dancing shoes because if, as Madeline believed, there's a special place in hell for women who don't support other women, they haven't seen anyone like her yet."

In closing, she bid an emotional farewell to Albright, saying, "Godspeed, 59. God bless you, dear Madeline. We will never ever forget you."

Albright's three daughters followed at the podium inside the cathedral.

"Most of you knew Madeleine Albright as a colleague in government or business, a teacher or a champion of democracy and human rights," Judge Anne K. Albright said. "To the world these were the many hats she wore but to our family, she also wore others. That of devoted sister, aunt, Grandma Maddie and for the three of us, the best mom ever."

"Mom's example meant much to me and my sisters," Anne continued. "She said that if we or any other young women wanted to compete successfully with men, we had to make sure our ideas were heard and that meant being willing — "

"To interrupt—" Anne's twin, Alice P. Albright, said, taking her sister's spot at the podium to the delight of the audience, which applauded the bit. "Yes, interrupt, but when you do make sure you have your thoughts in order and your facts straight," she continued. "This is a lesson that mom departed not only to us but to generations of students at her beloved Georgetown."

As a businesswoman, banker and political appointee in the Obama administration, Alice said she traveled the globe and received both advice and concern from the mother, who "sparked an interest in all things international" in her.

Katharine Albright and Alice Albright and Anne Albright

"Mom had friends everywhere," she said. "There's hardly a place where I have landed where I've not been asked some version of 'Is Madeleine your mother? How is she?' And then always followed by, 'We just love her.'"

As she finished speaking, Alice spoke directly to her mother with tears in her eyes.

"I will forever be grateful, Mom, for everything you've ever given me," she said as her twin sister comforted her. "I miss you so much, Mom, and everything about you and will forever."

Anne and Alice's younger sister, Katherine M. Albright, also spoke at the service, sharing fond — and funny — family memories of their mom, who loved to knit and was known to be a careful planner and an "optimist who worries a lot," according to Anne, but who taught her girls the values she also cherished.

"Think of her allowing us to maneuver a little red wagon filled with Girl Scout Cookies in the spring or campaign leaflets in the fall along the crowded sidewalks and cobbled streets of our neighborhood," Katherine told admirers in the cathedral. "With every step an unspoken lesson in hard work, giving back and civic participation."

"Imagine mom swooping down the Colorado ski slopes while wrapped in a purple parka and fuzzy hat or, more accurately, snowplowing back and forth so cautiously that we teased as inventing a whole new sport: uphill skiing," she quipped. "But in skiing, as in life, she always let us zoom ahead and beamed at our daring."

If she was careful going down the snowy side of a mountain, Albright showed no hesitation as she prepared to face senators tasked with questioning her before she became the country's top diplomat, Katherine recalled.

"In her dark blue suit, preparing for her historic confirmation hearing as America's first female secretary of state," Katherine said, with her tearful sisters standing behind her. "What is she doing in the waiting room? Brushing our hair and giving us each a Tic Tac."

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