WASHINGTON — President Biden and much of the nation’s top leadership paid tribute to former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright on Wednesday at a time when the West is confronting the very rise of authoritarianism she often warned about.
Mr. Biden, who is leading an international coalition backing Ukraine in its war against Russian invaders, joined former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and a host of lawmakers, diplomats and other luminaries for a memorial service at Washington National Cathedral a month after Ms. Albright died of cancer at 84.
“In the 20th and 21st century, freedom had no greater champion than Madeleine Albright,” Mr. Biden told a crowd of 1,400. Addressing Ms. Albright’s three daughters, the president added: “Your mom was a force, a force of nature. With her goodness and grace, her humanity and intellect, she turned the tide of history.”
Mr. Biden recalled that he was aboard Air Force One heading to Europe to rally NATO allies to stand up to Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine when he heard that Ms. Albright had died. “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,” the president said.
As part of a family that fled Communism in Eastern Europe, Ms. Albright became America’s ambassador to the United Nations and the first female secretary of state. She spent much of her career focusing on the perils of autocracy and advocating resolve by the world’s democracies. In her final guest essay for The New York Times in February, before the Russian invasion, she called for “forceful diplomatic pushback and increasing economic and military support for Ukraine.”
Remembering Madeleine K. Albright (1937-2022)
The first woman to serve as secretary of state, who rose to power and fame as a brilliant analyst of world affairs, died at 84.
The cathedral service brought together a who’s who of the Democratic political and foreign policy establishments along with some Republican supporters. In addition to Mr. Biden, tributes will be delivered by Mr. Clinton, who named Ms. Albright secretary of state for a tour that lasted from 1997 to 2001, and Hillary Clinton, who as first lady was instrumental in pushing for her appointment and later filled her office at the State Department.
Ms. Albright was the third former secretary of state to die in just over a year, after George P. Shultz and Colin L. Powell. Her peers will be represented by the current secretary, Antony J. Blinken, just back from a visit to Ukraine, as well as the former secretaries Condoleezza Rice and John F. Kerry. Susan E. Rice and Samantha Power, who both followed her at the United Nations and now hold senior posts in the Biden administration, also planned to attend.
Other senior officials spotted or expected included Speaker Nancy Pelosi; Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader; Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III; Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director; and Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser. Many of the key national security figures counted Ms. Albright as a mentor.
Ms. Albright had a long relationship with the cathedral. All three of her daughters attended the Beauvoir School and graduated from the National Cathedral School, which are both affiliated with the cathedral, and she led the Beauvoir board of directors in the 1970s. At the time of her death, Ms. Albright served on the Cathedral chapter, the institution’s governing board.
Her daughters — Anne K. Albright, Alice P. Albright and Katharine M. Albright — will offer memorials to her. Readings will be offered by Condoleezza Rice; Wendy R. Sherman, the deputy secretary of state and a protégée of Ms. Albright; Rabbi David N. Saperstein, a former ambassador at large for international religious freedom; and Winifred S. Freund, a college classmate of the former secretary and her closest friend.
The pallbearers were former members of her security detail at the United Nations and the State Department. Musical numbers will be offered by two performers she befriended: the trumpeter Chris Botti and the jazz pianist Herbie Hancock.