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For Albright and Rice, Josef Korbel Is Tie that Binds

In 1997, Josef Korbel's daughter Madeleine Albright (right) became the first woman to serve as secretary of state. His star pupil at the University of Denver, Condoleezza Rice, became the second, in 2005.
In 1997, Josef Korbel's daughter Madeleine Albright (right) became the first woman to serve as secretary of state. His star pupil at the University of Denver, Condoleezza Rice, became the second, in 2005.

Josef Korbel may be one of the most influential Americans you've never heard of. He died in 1977, but his legacy lives on in his two most famous students: his daughter, Madeleine Albright, and his star pupil at the University of Denver, Condoleezza Rice.

Korbel was an up-and-coming Czech diplomat in 1948 when the communists staged a coup in his country. He fled Europe and ended up at the University of Denver, where he went on to found the school's Graduate School of International Studies.

Both women say Korbel inspired them to pursue public service, and echoes of his abiding belief in the merits of American-style freedom are clear in their public statements.

The current and former secretaries of state talk to Guy Raz about Korbel's influence as a mentor and, in the case of Albright, as a father.

Rice says that one thing she thinks she shares with Albright is "the belief that democratic values are at the heart of peace and stability in the world."

But Albright, the first woman to serve as secretary of state, recalls what Rice said to her when Albright contacted her in 1987.

"Madeleine, I don't know how to tell you this," Rice told Albright, "but I'm a Republican." (Albright served in the administration of President Bill Clinton, a Democrat.)

Albright says she thinks her father would be upset by developments in U.S. foreign policy.

"It's ruined America's reputation," Albright says. "He cared so deeply about America and felt so strongly about what an important source of authority it was."

But Rice has a different interpretation of Korbel's philosophy.

"When we're faced with questions about why you are willing to risk so much on behalf of people in the Middle East, Iraqis or Afghans, it's hard for me to believe that he would have wanted them abandoned to tyranny," she says.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Guy Raz is the host, co-creator, and editorial director of three NPR programs, including two of its most popular ones: TED Radio Hour and How I Built This. Both shows are heard by more than 14 million people each month around the world. He is also the creator and co-host of NPR's first-ever podcast for kids, Wow In The World.