Madeleine Albright, the first woman to serve as secretary of state, died today of cancer, her family said in a statement. She was 84.
Born in Prague to a Jewish family that converted to Catholicism to avoid persecution during World War II, Albright immigrated to the United States in 1948. As ambassador to the United Nations during Bill Clinton’s first term, she sparred with Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, blocking his bid for a second term. Around this time, the United States failed to take decisive action against the genocide in Rwanda, which Albright later called “my deepest regret from my years in public service.”
As secretary of state during Clinton’s second term, she worked to resolve conflicts in the Balkans, promoted NATO expansion, and was an early proponent of US military action in Iraq—although she opposed the Bush administration’s 2003 invasion.
In 2012, President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. “During her tenure,” the announcement of her prize states, “she worked to enlarge NATO and helped lead the Alliance’s campaign against terror and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, pursued peace in the Middle East and Africa, sought to reduce the dangerous spread of nuclear weapons, and was a champion of democracy, human rights, and good governance across the globe.”