Madeleine Albright, an immigrant who fled Nazism to become the United States’ first female Secretary of State, died March 23 from cancer. She was 84 years old.

Known for her staunch support of democracy and human rights around the world, Albright served as the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations before President Bill Clinton appointed her secretary of state in 1997.

At the time of her appointment, Albright became the highest-ranking woman in the history of the U.S. government.

From immigrant to diplomat

Born in Prague, Albright immigrated with her parents to England as a 2-year-old in 1939. Her parents left to escape the Third Reich’s invasion of Czechoslovakia. Her family moved to the United States when Albright was 11 years old.

Albright attended Wellesley College, an all-women’s school, and graduated with a political science degree. Shortly after, she married Joseph Medill Patterson Albright.

 U.S. ambassador Madeleine Albright speaks to the Security Council on May 7, 1994. (AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler, File)

Albright earned a Ph.D. in 1976 from Columbia University in public law and government. There, she studied under Zbigniew Brzezinski, who became the National Security Council advisor to President Jimmy Carter that same year. Albright also became a White House staff member in 1976 and sat on the National Security Council in the Carter administration.

Albright’s four-decade diplomatic career proved her a fierce defender of and advocate for human rights, especially in Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

First female secretary of state

As the first woman to become secretary of state, Albright advocated for expansion of the NATO alliance and used her position to advocate for democracy in Eastern Europe.

Albright talks to Jeroen van der Veer during a meeting of members of an international panel working to update NATO’s mission statement in Prague, Czech Republic, January 12, 2010. (© Petr David Josek/AP Images)

As secretary of state, Albright supported the expansion of free-market democratization and the creation of civil societies in the developing world. She also favored the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol on global climate change and furthered the normalization of relations with Vietnam.

Among the many honors bestowed upon her was the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2012.

President Barack Obama awards Albright the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House in Washington May 29, 2012. (© Carolyn Kaster/AP Images)

She authored seven books, including Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewel Box (2009). The pins Albright wore for her meetings with world leaders often conveyed a diplomatic message. Others were more personal.

She said of the pins, “the most cherished attributes are not those that dazzle the eye but those that recall to the mind the face and spirit of a loved one.” They are now a permanent part of the National Museum of American Diplomacy.

“Madeleine Albright was a brilliant diplomat, a visionary leader, a courageous trailblazer, a dedicated mentor, and a great and good person who loved the United States deeply and devoted her life to serving it,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. “She was also a wonderful friend to many, including me. I’ll miss her very much.”