DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — As the first female U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright was known for tough talk, whether with Saddam Hussein or North Korea’s Kim Jong Il.
But as folks who got to see her in person often learned she had a tremendous sense of humor.
That was the case for anyone who was there in 2019 when she spoke to a packed auditorium at Duke University.
Sanford School of Public Policy Dean Judith Kelley recalled sharing the stage with Albright.
“I think you have to be able to break the ice and seem down to earth and she was so relatable when she was here… with the students, it was so welcoming. She might as well of opened her arms and embraced them,” Kelley said.
That was a trait that helped her as a diplomat, who to her last days worked to remind people of the importance of their role in democracy.
“It’s amazing how busy she stayed even until a month before she passed away. You know she had an op-ed that was very influential… thinking of her doing this while she was undergoing what she was going through with her health… she was focused on the mission I think,” Kelley said.
“She had a fire burning inside of her that goes way back to who she was and her history and she really cared about the people around her and the nation and that’s what she was focused on,” Kelley added.
Born in Czechoslovakia her family was forced to flee the Nazis and then communism, arriving in the United States as refugees in 1948. That background helped forge who she would become including a role model for women.
“Her goal of being there seemed to be to strengthen and uplift those around her. Especially, Especially women,” said Kelley.
Kelley can’t help but think of what is happening in Ukraine, and what Albright must have thought of it.
“I kind of wish maybe she hadn’t seen what has happened in the world in the last weeks in Ukraine, you know it must have been truly very hard on her. I think the best way we can honor her legacy is to do everything we each can to strive to preserve the democracy that we have in this country. That more than anything would make her happy” said Kelley.
Albright died Wednesday at the age of 84. She served as the 64th US Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton.