Georgetown University, neighborhood tavern remember Madeleine Albright

She was a trailblazer on the national stage, becoming the first woman to serve as Secretary of State. But in D.C., Madeleine Albright was also known for the impact she had in the classroom, and the impression she left on people she met at one of her favorite Georgetown restaurants.

Madeleine Albright died Wednesday at 84. For nearly 40 years, Albright instructed thousands of students at Georgetown University in the workings of foreign policy and diplomacy. Joel Hellman, the dean of the university’s School of Foreign Service said simply put, Albright was an icon.

Madeleine Albright
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright speaks at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, where she taught. (Courtesy Georgetown University/Phil Humnicky)

“She was an American icon, and of course, an icon to this university,” Hellman said.

He remembers Albright as someone who could use her own personal spirit and the generosity of that spirit as a great tool of diplomacy.

“She had this remarkable ability to use humor and personal warmth to disarm anyone who underestimated her or anyone who dared to oppose her,” Hellman said.

He said for Albright, she may be known for her work in the political realm, but Hellman said her true passion was teaching.

“For all her achievements, her global achievements, for all of her impact around the world, for all of the glass ceilings that she shattered, she always said first and foremost, ‘I see myself as a professor,’” Hellman said.

Hellman said she was able to teach her students the art of diplomacy by making them live the practice of diplomacy. He recalled a role-playing exercise in which students would live through a crisis she generated. Hellman said she delighted in throwing additional challenges into the games, such as leaders dying or invasions taking place.

“Anything she could do to encourage the students to understand the complexities and contingencies of the world, to get them to think on their feet, and to get them to practice the values and theories that she was teaching,” Hellman said.

He said many students would tell him that she changed their lives and the way they saw the world.

Madeleine Albright
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright attends Georgetown University’s commencement ceremonies. (Courtesy Georgetown University)

Hellman remembered Albright as a neighbor as well. The two lived a couple of doors from one another in Georgetown. Hellman fondly recalled their discussions on a driveway between their homes, which was a “famous party spot” for Georgetown students. Albright dubbed the driveway “the demilitarized zone,” Hellman recalled with a laugh.

“All through her period as Secretary of State, she refused, never once tried to stop the students from being students because she believed very much in letting everyone live and let live and enjoy the freedoms that she came to this country for,” Hellman said.

Hellman said her legacy will be what we can learn by looking at how she lived her life.

“Look at the way she lived her life, the humility that she lived her life, the warmth, connection and dedication to others that she exhibited in every aspect of her life; and I think that’s the inspiration she’s left us,” Hellman said.

Actors Tim Daly and Tea Leoni pose with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright outside Martin’s Tavern. (Courtesy William Martin Jr.)

When she wasn’t working to handle the U.S. response to crises overseas or leading a class, Albright was a regular at neighborhood restaurant Martin’s Tavern.

“Madeleine was just a wonderful person, wonderful lady. I mean, she was almost like a mother to many of my employees,” said William Martin Jr., the fourth-generation owner of the tavern.

Upon hearing the news of her death, Martin said he and the staff held a moment of silence in her honor.

For decades, Martin said Albright would come to the tavern. He remembers her as gracious and willing to speak to anyone about anything.

“She wasn’t like some that can feel like, ‘Don’t bother me.’ You know, ‘I’m untouchable.’ She was not like that,” Martin said.

A special memory for him is the kind words she had for his restaurant after coming from a day of working with NATO during the Bosnian war.

Albright, Martin said, told him that she was so glad to be in the restaurant having a meal. “‘The comfort food is just releasing the stress of what I’m dealing with right now.’” Martin remembered Albright saying.

Another fond memory Martin has is of Albright coming to the restaurant to celebrate its 85th anniversary, four years ago. The tavern is now looking at a way to honor the life of one of their favorite diners.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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