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Madeleine Albright remembered as fierce champion of freedom at funeral service

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Madeleine Albright honored at funeral
Biden, the Clintons honor Madeleine Albright at funeral service 01:03:07

WashingtonMadeleine Albright, the first woman to serve as secretary of state who died last month at the age of 84, was remembered as a tenacious defender of American ideals and freedom around the globe during a funeral service honoring her legacy on Wednesday.

More than 1,400 dignitaries, current and former U.S. officials and top lawmakers were in attendance for the ceremony at the Washington National Cathedral. President Biden, former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hailed Albright's decades-long influence on U.S. foreign policy and trail-blazing career.

"Freedom endures against all odds in the face of every aggressor because there are always those who will fight for that freedom. In the 20th and 21st century, freedom had no greater champion than Madeleine Korbel Albright," Mr. Biden said, calling her a "truly proud American who made all of us prouder to be Americans."

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, CIA Director William Burns and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley were among the current U.S. officials in attendance. Former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama were also on hand for the ceremony, as well as several foreign leaders.

Born Marie Jana Korbelova in Prague in 1937, Albright's family fled Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia for the U.K. just two years after her birth. The family returned after the war, but fled to the U.S. after a Communist coup in 1949. Albright would go on to attend Wellesley College and earn a PhD from Columbia University before serving as a staffer on Capitol Hill and the National Security Council under President Jimmy Carter.

President Biden pays his respects at the casket of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright during a funeral service at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C,, on April 27, 2022. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

Bill Clinton named Albright as his ambassador to the United Nations in 1993, a role she held until 1997. The Senate approved her nomination as secretary of state in a unanimous vote.

A fierce defender of human rights, Albright guided U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East, the Balkans and Latin America, and pushed to expand NATO to fill the vacuum left in central Europe by the fall of the Soviet Union. Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic all joined the alliance during her tenure. In his remarks, Mr. Biden said Albright "was a big part of the reason NATO was still strong and galvanized as it is today."

"She was smart, tough-minded, talented. She had a great sense of humor. And a clear grasp of the post-Cold War world we were moving into," Bill Clinton said, remembering their early interactions.

Mr. Biden recalled his tenure as the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during Albright's time as secretary of state, calling her an "incomparable ally and adviser" on foreign policy matters around the globe. He noted that she "made sure that young women know they belonged at every single table having to do with national security, without exception."

The funeral of former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is held at Washington National Cathedral
Former President Bill Clinton speaks at the funeral of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., on April 27, 2022. LEAH MILLIS / REUTERS

"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," Hillary Clinton said in her remarks. "Let us honor Madeleine's life and legacy by being the indispensable nation she loved and served, and let us live as she did, in a hurry to do the most good we can, with every season under heaven."

Upon leaving office, Albright returned to teach at Georgetown University and remained active in the Democratic politics, advising Hillary Clinton in her 2008 bid for the presidency. Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.

On Wednesday, Mr. Biden said Albright "understood that her story is America's story."

"She loved to speak about America as the 'indispensable nation.' To her, the phrase was never a statement of arrogance — it was about gratitude for all this country made possible for her," he said. "It was a testament in her belief in the endless possibilities that only America could unlock around the world, and the understanding of what American power can achieve."

Albright died on March 23 after a battle with cancer, her family said. 

"We love you, Madeleine. We miss you. But I hope we never stop hearing you," Clinton said to conclude his remarks. "Just sit on our shoulder and nag us to death until we do the right thing."

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