116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who died Wednesday of cancer, was born in Prague in Czechoslovakia and was a member of the national advisory council to the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library in Cedar Rapids.
Albright, the first female U.S. secretary of state, was proud of her heritage, said to Cecilia Rokusek, president and chief executive officer of the museum.
“She really had a great love for her culture, and for this national museum that’s in Cedar Rapids,” Rokusek said.
Rokusek met Albright in 2010 through Rokusek’s position as a Slovak honorary consul in Florida. Rokusek was invited to a dinner at the home of the president of Florida International University, where Albright was giving a presentation. After the presentation, Albright spoke with each of the attendees. Albright was delighted to discover that Rokusek spoke Czech, and the two women spoke to each other in Czech for the rest of the evening, Rokusek said.
“She never lost her native tongue. She never forgot that she was Czech,” Rokusek said.
Albright donated her childhood Kroj, a traditional Czech and Slovak dress, to the museum several years ago, and Rokusek said the dress likely will be on display soon to honor Albright.
The museum had an exhibit in 2013 featuring 280 pins that Albright wore during her time as secretary of state. Those pins — and the stories behind them — are now at the Smithsonian, according to Rokusek.
Albright will be greatly missed by the museum and the Czech and Slovak communities, Rokusek said.
“As a Czech, I’m really proud of her, because she really exemplified strength,” Rokusek said. “She was a prolific writer, a great scholar. She embodied everything that is good about womanhood, and also her Czech heritage.”
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds also released a statement Wednesday.
“Madeleine Albright was an extraordinary woman and trailblazer who selflessly served our country,” Reynolds said. “The secretary of state cared deeply about our world and those within it and had a major impact on countless lives. Kevin and I join with Iowans in celebrating the life of Secretary Madeleine Albright and the outstanding accomplishments she achieved.”
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