Biden, Obama, Clintons speak at funeral for Madeleine Albright, 1st female secretary of state

Albright was 84 when she died in March.

April 27, 2022, 1:11 PM

Much of official Washington paid tribute to former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the first woman to ever serve in that role, at her funeral Wednesday at the National Cathedral.

Albright, who had cancer, died in March at the age of 84.

She served as secretary of state from 1997 to 2001 under President Bill Clinton and as the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. from 1993 to 1997.

PHOTO: President Joe Biden speaks at the funeral service of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., on April 27, 2022.
President Joe Biden speaks at the funeral service of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., on April 27, 2022.
Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

President Joe Biden eulogized Albright, sharing a story about a speech he gave last month in Poland, where he said a crowd of hundreds cheered when he mentioned Albright's name.

"Her name is still synonymous with America as a force for good in the world. Madeleine never minced words or wasted time when she saw something needed fixing, or someone who needed helping. She just got to work," Biden said.

"She could go toe-to-toe with the toughest dictators, then turn around and literally teach a fellow ambassador how to do the macarena on the floor of the U.N. Security Council," he continued.

PHOTO: President Joe 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.
President Joe 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

With the NATO alliance critical in the face of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Biden highlighted her work to keep NATO "strong and galvanized" when she was the nation's top diplomat.

"When I got word that Madeleine passed, I was in midair on my way to Europe to meet with our NATO allies in Brussels to help try to continue to keep the strong, strong alliances together, our organization and international response to Russia's brutal and unjustifiable war against Ukraine. It was not lost on me that Madeleine was a big part of the reason NATO was still strong and galvanized as it is today."

During her tenure as secretary of state, she focused on promoting the eastward expansion of NATO and pushed for NATO intervention in the 1999 war in Kosovo, according to the historical office of the Department of State.

PHOTO:Former President Obama and Michelle Obama watch as Hillary Clinton pins a Ukrainian flag pin on the jacket of former President Bill Clinton as they gather for the funeral of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in Washington, April 27, 2022.
Former President Barack Obama and first lady lady Michelle Obama watches as Hillary Clinton pins a Ukrainian flag pin the jacket of former President Bill Clinton as they gather for the funeral of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at Washington National Cathedral in Washington, April 27, 2022.
Leah Millis/Reuters

Her approach to diplomacy and statecraft was colored by her own experiences as a refugee who fled what was then Czechoslovakia with her family in the aftermath of World War II.

She remained engaged with both American and international affairs until the end of her life, writing a book in 2018 warning about a resurgence of fascism and sounding an alarm about Russian President Vladimir Putin in a New York Times op-ed published just before Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"In early 2000, I became the first senior U.S. official to meet with Vladimir Putin in his new capacity as acting president of Russia... Flying home, I recorded my impressions. 'Putin is small and pale,' I wrote, 'so cold as to be almost reptilian,'" Albright wrote in the Times. She added that "should he invade [Ukraine], it will be a historic error."

PHOTO: Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright attends the Annual Freedom Award Benefit hosted by the International Rescue Committee in New York, Nov. 6, 2013.
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright attends the Annual Freedom Award Benefit hosted by the International Rescue Committee in New York, Nov. 6, 2013.
Mike Coppola/Getty Images, FILE

Biden said Wednesday "her story was America's story" and praised Albright as a pioneer who made sure women "knew they belonged at every single table having to do with national security, without exception."

Both former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also spoke at the funeral, as did Albright's daughters, Anne, Alice and Katie.

PHOTO: Former President Bill Clinton speaks during the funeral service for former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at the Washington National Cathedral April 27, 2022 in Washington, D.C.
Former President Bill Clinton speaks during the funeral service for former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at the Washington National Cathedral April 27, 2022 in Washington, D.C.
Win Mcnamee/Getty Images
PHOTO: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at the funeral of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., April 27, 2022.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at the funeral of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., April 27, 2022.
Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

"Few leaders have been so perfectly suited for the times in which they served... Because she knew firsthand that America's policy decisions had the power to make a difference in people's lives around the world, she saw her jobs as both an obligation and an opportunity," the former president wrote in a statement the day Albright died.

ABC News' Emily Shapiro and Justin Gomez contributed to this report.

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