Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright paid a return visit to the State Department Monday for the unveiling of her official portrait. Albright was the first female Secretary of State, and her portrait now joins those of 63 male predecessors displayed in the executive offices of the building. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
A bipartisan crowd of Democrats who served with Albright in the Clinton administration, and officials of the Republican Bush administration, joined in the event honoring Albright, a post-World War Two immigrant from what was then Czechoslovakia who became the first woman to hold the top U.S. foreign policy post.
Albright and current Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are close friends of long-standing. Rice was a student and protégé of Albright's father, the late Joseph Korbel, who was a professor of international relations at the University of Denver.
Rice, who began her college days as a music major, told the crowd she might today be just a department store piano player had she not enrolled in an international relations course taught by Korbel:
"Joseph Korbel opened up a world to me that I would never have known. With that one class I was hooked. Suddenly I knew what I wanted to do. And so I owe a great deal to Dr. Joseph Korbel, Madeleine's father, and Madeleine … he would have been very, very proud to be here today," she said.
Rice paid tribute to the achievements of Albright's four-year tenure as Secretary of State, including U.S.-led NATO intervention in Kosovo that ended a Serb campaign of ethnic cleansing and set in motion a process that led to the territory's independence in February.
The life-sized Albright portrait, unveiled at the ceremony by two State Department police officers, shows the diminutive former Secretary standing with hands clasped in front of her against a mottled blue background.
In her remarks, the self-deprecating former secretary paid tribute to the portrait artist, Steven Polson, for accentuating the positive. "Looking now at the portrait, I have several reactions. The first is: thanks to the artist Steven Polson for producing such a brilliant work with limited material at hand. When I was in office I was called everything from a snake to a witch, to elderly but dangerous. Steven did a marvelous job of concealing each of those qualities," she said.
Albright joked that the walls of the State Department might tremble when her portrait goes up among the all-male cast of predecessors.
She noted with some satisfaction that since the beginning of the new century, two-thirds of U.S. Secretaries of State have been women - namely herself and Rice, with former Secretary Colin Powell in between.