Over the years, Madeleine Albright has sat down with innumerable heads of state, but she had her 9-year-old granddaughter to thank for Tuesday’s front-row perch at Vera Wang.
The youngster won their show tickets at an auction in San Francisco. Taking in the preshow scene at Lincoln Center, Albright, the first woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of State, was clearly getting a kick out of this new experience. “There is a good mood here and we need a good mood now,” she said.
Before the lights went down, she took a few photos with Wang, whom she knows personally. “Vera is real example of a woman who has achieved in this country,” she said.
Albright is no slouch either, having also served as American ambassador to the United Nations. At 74, she has her own business, teaches at Georgetown University and is working on her third book, a memoir about life in Czechoslovakia from her birth in 1937 until 1948. As for how things stand today in the U.S., Albright said, “I think we have a very complicated international situation and economy. The President is working hard to make sure the economy recovers.”
Two years after Albright published “Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewel Box,” the exhibition of her signature pieces is still being shown and is now up at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum in Atlanta. Albright was there last week discussing how her jewelry became part of her diplomatic arsenal. (After criticizing Saddam Hussein, one of his officials referred to her as “an unparalleled serpent,” so when a meeting with Iraqi brass arose she sported a snake pin.) Surprisingly, she was brooch-free Tuesday. “I’m not wearing any today because I have so many other things on,” referring to her chunky gold link necklace, bracelets and oversized earrings.
The memoir is even weightier. As one might imagine, the period from 1937 to 1948 “was a little difficult,” she said. While Albright does not have childhood journals to draw from, she said, “I just have a good memory, and there are a lot of documents from my father, who worked in the Czech government.”
Her father Josef Korbel was a diplomat at the Czechoslovak Embassy in Belgrade. After the Nazi invasion in 1939, he relocated his family to London, where he served as an adviser to the exiled Czech president Edvard Benes until the Third Reich fell. Once back in his homeland he acted as the country’s ambassador to Yugoslavia, often dealing with issues about Pakistan. During the Communist coup in 1948, the family was forced to flee again. After learning he had been tried and sentenced to death in absentia, Korbel was granted political asylum in the U.S. and taught at the University of Denver. While there heading up the university’s school of International Studies, which is named for him, he taught Condoleezza Rice, among others.
Asked if the warring parties on Capitol Hill might learn to work together, Albright said, “I hope so. There have been a lot of very good talks lately about better bipartisanship.”
In fact, she said she was speaking about the need for a spirit of cooperation between Democrats and Republicans with Colin Powell and Rice at Monday’s 25th anniversary of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz at the Kennedy Center. “We all have to adjust and we have to work together to support each other to make the United States stronger and to get out of this difficult economic situation.
How Democrats and Republicans will manage remains a question mark. Asked about any specific plans, Albright said, “That’s what we’re working on.”