Monday, May 2, 2011

Madam's pins

One early morning as I was riding my scooter from the parking lot to the office at Georgetown University where I worked, I came upon a rather short woman walking her dog. I recognized former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (b. 1937), but totally blanked on her name. So as I approached, I said, "I think I know you!" She answered, "I think you might!" We smiled and went our separate ways. A few years later at the Georgetown bookstore, I had a chance to tell her how much I and all my female friends admire her, as she signed a copy of her autobiography Madam Secretary: A Memoir. She has since written another book, Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat's Jewel Box, a look at her life through the brooches she wore at her meetings with world leaders and others. Each of the pins had a meaning from which one could glean the tenor of the meeting and the message she intended to send. "A stalled negotiation might have elicited from her jewelry box a turtle in lapis lazuli; a friendly summit, the dandelion with a moonstone for its puff; a contentious encounter, a rhinestone bee or a copper-pincered crab," writes Lauren Collins in the New Yorker. When Albright criticized Sadddam Hussein for Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and the Iraqi press characterized her as a serpent, she chose an appropriate pin for their next meeting. She wore an oversized American flag pin when she was photographed with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and that bee when she met with Palestinian leader Yassar Arafat (5th image). She assembled a herd of zebra pins for a meeting with South African president Nelson Mandela, intending to evoke the hope for Africa's future. A pin with a map of Sudan (1st image) reflected her support of an intervention by the worldwide community to end years of violence in that country. When she spoke about Middle East peace negotiations, she wore a lion pin to encourage bravery and a dove pin (4th image) that was given to her by the widow of assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

A traveling exhibit of 200 of Albright's pins - including the gold and lapis lazuli globe pin (2nd image) commissioned for her by her alma mater, Wellesley College - began in September of 2009 and will continue through June 2012 with shows in New Orleans, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and Denver. During her author appearances for the book, Madam Secretary has to watch what she says: "I've signed books for people wearing pins and I'd say, 'Gee, that's a really nice pin.' Then they take it off and give it to me, so I don't say that anymore."


  1. A very intersting way to tell a story! I find this fascinating.


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