Albright taught students at Georgetown University for 40 years while attending and ministering to local churches in the district.
WASHINGTON — Madeleine Albright’s impact on the world and national stage has been undeniable, but locals say even here at home in DC, they’ll never forget anything she’s done.
Albright, the first woman US Secretary of State, died of cancer on Wednesday at the age of 84, her family said.
In DC, the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom wore many hats outside of her official duties serving the United States abroad.
Albright taught for 40 years at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service. GU SFS Dean Joel Hellman called Albright an “American icon” who loved her students.
“She was devoted, incredibly devoted to her students, thousands of whom took her classes, and was inspired not only by her classes but also by her own personal story, by her own commitment to the values of human rights and democracy,” she said he . “So she really helped shape the School of Foreign Service, the country’s premier school of international affairs, and she’s really built very heavily on so much of what she’s contributed.”
Hellman said that just days before the start of the current semester, Albright was even considering teaching at the school. But, he said, she found that her illness would not allow her.
“She called me and said, ‘I haven’t been able to teach my course for 40 years, I’m teaching this course and believe me, I did everything I could to make it into the classroom. But you know, my doctors just don’t think I can do it,'” he said. “She waited until the very last minute because I know she fought with every inch of her being to get back where she belongs, in front of students and engaging with students.”
Albright was known around campus for running simulations in her classes that required students to work through hypothetical international crises dreamed up by the former secretary of state. Hellman said the assignment has become a “rite of passage” for anyone who has graduated from GU’s School of Foreign Service.
“Years later, when I spoke to alumni, what they remembered most was their time in Georgetown, coming face-to-face with Secretary of State Albright in a crisis of her making.”
When Albright was not in Georgetown, she could often be seen walking through the surrounding neighborhood to her church, St. John’s Episcopal, on O Street NW.
Reverend Gini Gerbasi, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Georgetown, remembers Albright as an affable member of the congregation with a “beautiful” singing voice.
“We asked her if she wanted to sing in the choir and she wouldn’t bother,” she said. “It was just a part of her because she just wanted to fit in like everyone else.”
Gerbasi said Albright loved coming to church and being part of a large community, even if it occasionally surprised other parishioners during communion.
“Someone would go and turn around, and the person handing them bread would be Madeline Albright,” she said. “And they had no idea she was there, and it was charming to see children taking communion or she passing it on to teenagers or Georgetown students.”
Gerbasi also fondly recalled what Albright once said to her during a child’s christening.
“I carried the baby peacefully down the aisle to introduce the baby, this is part of our tradition and symbolic effort to introduce the child to the community, and just before I got to Madeleine Albright, the baby was throwing up on my shoulder. She said. “And so she pulled a tissue out of her purse and she said, ‘I think you were spat on.’ And I said, ‘Oh, no.’ And I looked over my shoulder and she took the tissues and she wiped it just off and then she looked at me and said we are both moms.
Albright also served as a member of the cathedral chapter at the National Cathedral in Northwest DC. The Cathedral Chapter is the governing body of the National Cathedral.
Reverend Randy Hollerith, dean of the National Cathedral, said Albright’s faith is very important to her.
“It showed in how she shared with these church institutions,” he said.
Hollerith said Albright always brought great wisdom to the affairs of the cathedral chapter.
“She is irreplaceable,” he said. “There is no one like her and there will be no more, she is an irreplaceable, wonderful person and I am grateful for her life and the gifts she has given to so many.”