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Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright

America’s first female Secretary of State Madeleine Albright passed away from cancer on Wednesday, her family said.

She was 84 years old.

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Albright was “surrounded by family and friends,” her family said in a tweet. “We have lost a loving mother, grandmother, sister, aunt and friend.”

Albright served as the top US diplomat during the final four years of the administration of President Bill Clinton, from 1997 to 2001. She was the highest-ranking woman in the history of the American government at the time.

She served as US Ambassador to the United Nations in 1993, remaining in the post until she was appointed Secretary of State.

In May 2012, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by US President Barack Obama.

Born into a Jewish family, Albright (born Marie Jana) immigrated with her family to the US in 1948 from Czechoslovakia, graduated from Wellesley College in 1959, and later earned a PhD in 1975 from Columbia University.

Her father (Josef Korbel) was a diplomat with the Czechoslovakia Embassy in Belgrade, but in September 1938, after the signing of the Munich Agreement and the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, her family was forced into exile.

In 1948, when the Communist Party took over the Yugoslavia government, Albright’s father was forced out of his position. The family moved to London and then to the United States, settling in Great Neck, Long Island.

Josef Korbel subsequently became dean of the school of international relations at University of Denver, where he later taught the future US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Albright’s father and mother (Anna) converted from Judaism to Catholicism in 1941 and raised their children in the Roman Catholic church. Albright said in 1997 that her parents never told her, or her two siblings, about their Jewish ancestry.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.