Jon Huntsman reflects on the passing of Madeline Albright

“She was our country’s most vociferous, and I would say effective, advocate,” Huntsman said of the former secretary of state.

(Photo courtesy Jon Huntsman) Former Ambassador Jon Huntsman speaks with Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright during a recent meeting of the Defense Policy Board at the Pentagon.

Former Ambassador Jon Huntsman says he was stunned by the news of former Secretary of State Madeline Albright’s passing on Wednesday.

“I’m still a little bit in shock. She was so full of vigor, so clear-minded, so energetic,” Hunstman told The Salt Lake Tribune.

Albright, the first female U.S. Secretary of State, died Wednesday. She was 84.

Huntsman was still processing the news of her passing as he shared his memories of Albright during a conversation Wednesday afternoon.

“She was our country’s most vociferous, and I would say effective, advocate. She had a fierce dedication to American values. She was loved and reviled because of her approach, which was a values-first foreign policy. She was a constant reminder that our most powerful weapon is our values, which has always been America’s secret sauce.”

Albright’s family fled from Czechoslovakia to England in 1938, avoiding extermination by the Nazis. They later emigrated to the U.S. when she was 11 years old.

President Bill Clinton appointed her to the top foreign policy post in 1997 where she served until 2001. Prior to that, she was U.N. Ambassador to the United Nations.

During Huntsman’s years in the foreign policy arena, he forged a friendship with Albright that spanned more than two decades.

“For whatever reason, she took an interest in my assignments, where I was posted, work I was doing. She would call and offer suggestions, always advice. It was like a loose shirt-sleeve relative calling and kind of nudging me along,” Huntsman said. “She would call during the most unique moments in my career progression and say, ‘I know where you are. I know what you’re thinking, and here’s what I think you need to do.’ I’ll never forget those moments.”

Huntsman says it’s impossible to point to a single signature achievement by Albright, but he argues the expansion of NATO was perhaps her most important work.

“I had this conversation with her more than once. She said people either love me or hate me because of NATO expansion. She would say international relations like physics abhors a vacuum. If the values of NATO member states were not present during that split, she would argue somebody else would fill that vacuum, and that somebody else would be the Russians,” Huntsman said.

He says Albright was the driving force behind that expansion which “supercharged” NATO as an institution and highlighted the need for like-minded countries working together and coordinating military intelligence and deployments. That coordination is even more important now in light of the current Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“When somebody passes like this, you start looking at the real impact they’ve had on humanity. Not just policy-wise, but in terms of relationships with people, inspiring and mentoring. You can’t put a number on the people that Madeline Albright influenced and inspired on both sides of the aisle during her career,” he said.

Huntsman says he last saw Albright recently when she chaired a meeting of the Defense Policy Board at the Pentagon.

“As was typical, she would come up to you and give you a bear hug and want to know what was going on. Then she would take over the chair of the meeting and run it with the energy and fervor she brought to everything in life,” Hunstman said.

Albright did not show up for the next day’s meetings. Huntsman said board members were told she was not doing well after suffering a fall.

“If I had only known that I wouldn’t see her again, I would have extended each and every conversation I had with her just to capture her worldview. It was so well-shaped by history, by her immigrant experience. That’s a very unique human being to be celebrated,” Hunstman said.