WASHINGTON — Madeleine Albright’s impact on the world and the national stage was undeniable, but locals say they will never forget all she did right here at home in D.C. either.
Albright, who served as the first female US Secretary of State, passed away Wednesday at the age of 84 from cancer, according to her family.
In D.C., the Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient wore many hats outside her official duties serving the United States abroad.
Albright taught at the Georgetown University Walsh School of Foreign Service for 40 years. GU SFS Dean Joel Hellman called Albright an “American Icon” who loved her students.
“She was dedicated, incredibly dedicated to her students, thousands of which went through her classes, and were inspired not only by her teaching but by her own personal story, by her own commitment to the values of human rights and democracy,” he said. “So, she really helped shape the School of Foreign Service, the nation's leading School of International Affairs, and it is really built very much around so much of what she contributed.”
Hellman said as Albright even still considered teaching at the school just a few days before the current semester started. But, he said, she determined her illness would not allow her to do so.
“She called me up and she said, ‘I can't teach my course for 40 years, I've been teaching this course and believe me, I've done everything I possibly can to make it into the classroom. But, you know, my doctors just don't think I can do it’,” he said. “She waited until the very last minute because I know that she was fighting with every inch of her being to get back to where she belonged, in front of students, engaging with students.”
Albright was known on campus for running simulations in her classes where students had to work through hypothetical international crises imagined by the former Secretary of State. Hellman said the task became a “rite of passage” for anyone who graduated from GU’s School of Foreign Service.
“Years later, when I talked to alums, the thing they remember most about their time at Georgetown was going face-to-face with Secretary Albright in a crisis that she manufactured.”
When Albright was not at Georgetown, she could often be seen walking through the surrounding neighborhood to her church, St. John’s Episcopal, on O Street NW.
Reverend Gini Gerbasi, the rector of St. John's Episcopal Church in Georgetown, remembers Albright for being an approachable member of the congregation with a “gorgeous” singing voice.
“We asked her if she wanted to sing in the choir, and she didn't want to make it about her,” she said. “That was just part of what she was like because she just wanted to blend in like everyone else.”
Gerbasi said Albright loved coming to services and being a part of a large community, even if it occasionally surprised other parishioners during communion.
“Somebody would go and turn and the person to hand them bread would be Madeleine Albright,” she said. “And, they had no idea that she was there and was it charming to see kids pass for communion or her pass it to teenagers or students from Georgetown.”
Gerbasi also fondly remembered what Albright once had to say to her during the baptism of a child.
“I was carrying the baby down the aisle at the peace to introduce the baby, that's part of our tradition and symbolic effort of introducing the child to the community, and right before I got to Madeleine Albright, the baby threw up on my shoulder,” she said. “And, so, she pulled a tissue out of her purse, and she said, ‘I think you've been spit up on’. And I said, ‘Oh, no’. And I looked over my shoulder and she took the tissues and she just wiped it off and then she looked at me and she said we're both moms.”
Albright also served as a member of the Cathedral Chapter at the National Cathedral in Northwest D.C. The Cathedral Chapter is the governing body of the National Cathedral.
The Very Reverend Randy Hollerith, dean of the National Cathedral, said Albright’s faith was very important to her.
“That showed in how she shared herself with these church institutions,” he said.
Hollerith said Albright always brought plenty of wisdom to the Cathedral Chapter’s affairs.
“She is irreplaceable,” he said. “There is no one like her and there will not be again, she is an irreplaceable, wonderful human being and I give thanks for her life and the gifts she's given to so many.”