I hope you will forgive me for this digression when there are so many things to talk about in our wacky worlds of securities law and corporate governance. However, though I am tempted to rant about the SEC’s proposals on climate change and cybersecurity disclosures, I’ll save that for another day. Today, I have decided to take a few minutes to reminisce about my encounters with Madeleine Albright, who died this week.
Yes, my encounters. Plural.
I first met Secretary Albright when she was the United States Ambassador to the United Nations. Our UN ambassadors’ official residence then and, I believe, now is a suite high up in the Waldorf Tower, a relatively exclusive building adjacent to the famous Waldorf-Astoria on Park Avenue in New York. One of our daughters had just run in her first New York Marathon, and my wife and I had flown up from Florida, hired a car for the day, and had the wonderful experience of seeing her run in each of the five boroughs of New York City. We had also purchased VIP tickets so that we could be in the stands next to the finish line in Central Park and see her complete the race. It was an exhilarating day.
When we finally found our daughter on Central Park West after the race was over, my wife managed to get into a taxi occupied by another runner or two to take them back to our hotel – the Waldorf Tower, where my employer had a suite one floor beneath that of the UN ambassador and where corporate officers could stay if the suite was not being used for business purposes. I walked back to the Waldorf.
When I arrived, wearing a trenchcoat – it was a blustery day in November – and my “NY Marathon VIP” badge, I got on the elevator to head up to the suite. This was pre-9/11, and security was pretty lax, and who should get on after me but Ambassador Albright. She took one look at my badge and, let’s face it, my girth, and said something like “Something tells me you were a spectator, not a runner.” I don’t know what possessed me, but I said something like “Gee, and I thought you were a diplomat.” We chuckled and I exited at our floor.
That might have been that, but on March 26, 2004 – 20 years ago to the day (and several employers later for both of us, actually) – I attended a meeting of the Council of Institutional Investors in Washington. CII has always hosted the best meetings, affording companies and investors wonderful opportunities to get to know each other and to see great speakers. That day, the speaker was none other than Secretary Albright. To my great pleasure, I was asked if I would sit at the head table, and as luck would have it, I was seated next to her. She was a wonderful speaker and a fantastic lunch neighbor, making sure to include everyone at our table in our conversations. As the lunch approached its conclusion, I took out my copy of her book, Madam Secretary. I told her I’d read it and loved it, and I asked her if she would honor me by signing it. I then reminded her of our encounter in the Waldorf Tower elevator. She was taken aback and apologized profusely for not remembering, but I told her that I’d be shocked and a bit concerned if she had, given that she had a few other responsibilities then and now. She smiled and signed the book; you can see her signature in the accompanying picture.
I followed her career ever since, and have read or listened to most of her other books (and I will get to all of them eventually). I am sure that Madeleine Albright has her detractors, and that are many people who disagree with her policies or otherwise found her wanting. For me, however, she was a woman of enormous consequence and great wisdom, dignity, and that most important quality, humor. I, and I believe the world, will miss her.