Many politically minded volunteers have thrown their support behind Maine candidates over the years. Few have gone on to have a career as illustrious as that of Madeleine Albright.
Albright, who volunteered for the ill-fated 1972 presidential campaign of U.S. Sen. Edmund Muskie, a Democrat from Maine, would go on to become the first woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of State. She died on Wednesday, her family announced. She was 84.
An immigrant from Czechoslovakia who had settled in the Washington, D.C., area with her family as an adult, Albright got her start in government as a legislative assistant for Muskie. But before she worked for the Maine senator on Capitol Hill, she was a volunteer for his ill-fated 1972 presidential campaign and later helped him get re-elected to the Senate.
While much of her work to support Muskie involved fundraising, Albright also accompanied the Democrat to his home state for one of his campaigns, visiting a shoe factory and knocking on doors for his campaign in Portland’s Munjoy Hill neighborhood, recalled Charlie Micoleau, who served as Muskie’s chief of staff.
“She was very good at it,” Micoleau said. “She was the kind of person who immediately engaged in conversation.”
Micoleau recruited Albright to work for Muskie in 1976. She started as a legislative assistant focused on foreign policy, having completed a doctorate at Columbia University the previous year.
Albright still had young children at home, and she entered Muskie’s office at a time when there were relatively few women serving in high-level positions on Capitol Hill. But she excelled as someone who was highly analytical in her work but personable, Micoleau said. She was soon given more responsibility in Muskie’s office, including budget matters.
She left Muskie’s office in 1978 to work for the White House National Security Council under Zbigniew Brzezinski, who had been her professor at Columbia. She remained close with many in Muskie’s circle and had a “soft spot in her heart for Maine,” often visiting Muskie’s home in Kennebunk, Micoleau said. The legendary Maine senator died in 1996.
Albright left the White House when President Jimmy Carter left office, but she continued to advise Democratic politicians on foreign policy. She was ambassador to the United Nations under former President Bill Clinton, and he later picked her to serve as secretary of state — a role Muskie held under Carter nearly two decades prior.
Albright left her post in 2001, coinciding with the end of Clinton’s presidency. It was her final position in government, but she remained active in public life, writing several books and commenting publicly on a range of international issues.
“Foreign policy is typically seen as something that academics and diplomats who spend a lifetime in foreign affairs engage in,” said Micoleau, the former Muskie chief of staff. “Madeleine saw it as a reflection of American grassroots politics and firmly believed in educating the public about the importance of our role in the world.”
Her efforts to educate the public continued until near her death. On the eve of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last month, she wrote an op-ed for the New York Times branding the move a “historic mistake.”
Albright never had to worry about some of the cybersecurity challenges that have plagued government officials in recent years, Micoleau said. Nor did she have to keep up with modern social media frequently used by today’s politicians.
“She was technologically challenged and never quite understood Twitter,” Micoleau said.