Biden remembers Albright as ‘a force for goodness, grace, and decency’

Former US Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton (L) 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.
Former President Clinton describes friendship between Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright
01:17 - Source: CNN
Washington CNN  — 

President Joe Biden paid tribute to former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on Wednesday, calling the late former top diplomat “a force for goodness, grace, and decency – and for freedom.”

Albright, 84, died of cancer on Wednesday, her family said.

“Madeleine was always a force for goodness, grace, and decency – and for freedom,” Biden said in a statement honoring her legacy. “When I think of Madeleine, I will always remember her fervent faith that ‘America is the indispensable nation.’”

Biden said Albright came to the US “a refugee in need of safe haven. And like so many before her – and after – she was proudly American.” He also recalled his experience working with Albright in the 1990s when he was a senator.

“As the world redefined itself in the wake of the Cold War,” Biden wrote, “we were partners and friends working to welcome newly liberated democracies into NATO and confront the horrors of genocide in the Balkans.”

Albright was a central figure in former President Bill Clinton’s administration, first serving as his US ambassador to the United Nations before he picked her in his second term to be the first female secretary of state. In office, she championed the expansion of NATO, pushed for the alliance to intervene in the Balkans to stop genocide and ethnic cleansing, sought to reduce the spread of nuclear weapons, and championed human rights and democracy across the globe.

Clinton on Wednesday similarly remembered his former top diplomat as “a passionate force for freedom, democracy, and human rights” whose death “is an immense loss to the world in a time when we need the lessons of her life the most.”

US President Bill Clinton (left) and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright talk together in the White House's Oval Office, Washington DC, September 8, 1997.

“When the end of the Cold War ushered in a new era of global interdependence, she became America’s voice at the UN, then took the helm at the State Department, where she was a passionate force for freedom, democracy, and human rights,” he said in a statement.

“Madeleine’s passing is an immense loss to the world in a time when we need the lessons of her life the most,” he continued, adding that both he and former first lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “will always be deeply grateful for the wonderful friendship we shared and the unfailingly wise counsel she gave us over so many years.”

The former President noted Albright’s lifelong commitment to public service, saying that “even until our last conversation just two weeks ago, she never lost her great sense of humor or her determination to go out with her boots on, supporting Ukraine in its fight to preserve freedom and democracy.”

Clinton shared more details from the conversation with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room” later Wednesday, saying that Albright “spent the entire conversation talking about how Ukraine had to be defended and that we had put a lot of those who said we had made a mistake to expand NATO – she said (Russia’s) not going after NATO yet.”

“She just wanted to support whatever we could do to back Ukraine. And that’s all she wanted to talk about. She was happy. She was upbeat,” he added. “And she didn’t want to venture into her health challenges. She said, ‘I’m being treated, I’m doing the best I can. The main thing we can all do now is to think about the world we want to leave for our kids.’”

When Clinton nominated Albright to be his second secretary of state in 1996, he said the then-UN ambassador “embodies the best of America” and displays “determination to advance our interests around the world.”

“It says something about our country, and about our new secretary of state designate, that a young girl raised in the shadow of Nazi aggression in Czechoslovakia can rise to the highest diplomatic office in America,” he said at the time.

‘An American giant’

Additional leaders from across the political spectrum also mourned Albright on Wednesday, with former President George W. Bush saying in a statement that he and former first lady Laura Bush are “heartbroken” by the death of the former secretary, whom they remembered as a diplomat “who understood firsthand the importance of free societies for peace in our world.”

“She lived out the American dream and helped others realize it … I respect her love of country and public service, and Laura and I are grateful to have called Madeline Albright our friend,” Bush said.

Condoleezza Rice, who, as Bush’s second secretary of state, was the second woman to helm the department, called Albright “an American giant whose life and legacy will be remembered for generations to come.”

“She was not only a trailblazer for women worldwide, but a fearless fighter for freedom on behalf of all humanity,” Rice said in a statement. “While we had our differences on policy, we shared a deep appreciation for this country and for freedom around the world.”

And former President Barack Obama said Albright brought a “unique and important perspective” to a career in which she served as a “champion for democratic values.” The former President also shared one of his favorite memories of Albright.

“At a naturalization ceremony, an Ethiopian man came up to Madeleine and said, ‘Only in America could a refugee from Africa meet the secretary of state.’ She replied, ‘Only in America could a refugee from Central Europe become secretary of state,’” Obama said in a statement.

António Guterres, the secretary-general of the United Nations, remembered Albright’s “wise counsel, deep experience, unique insights.”

“Her life is powerful testament to the invaluable contributions refugees bring to countries that welcome them,” Guterres said in a statement.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Albright “a brilliant diplomat, a visionary leader, a courageous trailblazer.”

“Having arrived here as a refugee at age 11, she never forgot the generosity that America extended to her family when they needed it most. Having seen America at its best, she pushed relentlessly for us to live up to our role as a moral beacon and defender of freedom,” Blinken said. “After leaving the State Department, when asked if she was relieved not to be dealing with crises around the world, she’d say simply, ‘I miss it every day.’ She loved this country. She loved this department. And we loved her back.”

This story and headline have been updated with additional reaction Wednesday.

CNN’s Liz Turrell and Shawna Mizelle contributed to this report.