Yesterday, the 1st of July 2022, was the first time I left the UK in 2 years, a duration of non-travel-abroad time that hasn't happened to me since I was 4 years old. Yesterday was also the 25th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong to China, the day that officially ended the 180-year British occupation of Hong Kong. Then US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was among the state dignitaries that attended the ceremony in 1997, and although she could not have known the details of the pro-democracy protests that would arise in Hong Kong in 2019, I’m guessing they were not beyond her estimation. Before Madeleine Albright became the first woman to hold the post of Secretary of State, she had already navigated a life of adaptation.
Madeleine Albright was born Marie Jana Korbelová in Prague, Czechoslovakia in 1937. At 2 years old, her father moved the family to London to work under the Czechoslavak-government-in-exile just before the beginning of WW2. Two years later, in the throes of war, her parents converted the entire family from Judaism to Catholicism and kept their Jewish heritage a secret throughout their lives. At the end of the war, the family returned to Prague where Marie Jana was home-schooled then sent to Chexbres, Switzerland so she would not be exposed to Marxism. It was in Chexbres that Marie Jana changed her name to Madeleine.
Madeleine emigrated to the US at 11 years old where she gained her citizenship a few years after her father applied for political asylum. Madeleine spent the rest of her schooling years in Denver, Colorado, where her father found a teaching position at the university. Though she would leave to go to college in Wellesley, Massachusettes, it was in Denver where she ultimately met her future husband, Joseph Albright, and from where she changed her family name to Albright, became Episcopalian and followed Joseph’s work to Missouri, Chicago, New York and ultimately, Washington, DC.
Washington, DC, was where Madeleine began her political career. Serving as chief legislative assistant for Senator Ed Muskie, then congressional liaison under Zbigniew Kazimierz Brzeziński at the National Security Council, Madeleine Albright obtained a grant to write about dissident journalists in Poland. Upon her return, her husband left her, but lucky for us at Georgetown, she began teaching at Georgetown University where she became Distinguished Professor of Diplomacy in 2016 and where she stayed until her death earlier this year.
This week the UK lost another educator, Dame Deborah James. Before she left us, she reminded us to “always, always have rebellious hope” – Madeleine Albright’s life of adaptation in a nutshell. Arriving in Marseille Airport 9 hours after I left home in London, travel these days can take some patience. Still, onwards, with a bit of rebellious hope in the second half of 2022!