Our Neighbor, Madeleine Albright

By Maura Walsh-Copeland

How many people do you know who send handwritten thank you notes for receiving a birthday letter, or at all these days?  Well, Madeleine Albright did.  

Although her handwriting was difficult to decipher, she was always gracious, very down to earth, with a wonderful sense of humor.

Some may not know about Madeleine’s roots in Loudoun, owning a farm west of Hillsboro and Neersville.  In 2000, while Secretary of State, she came to Hillsboro Elementary School when my son was in 1st grade. 

I ran into Madeleine in Purcellville in 2011, and we laughed at her memories of Hillsboro Elementary.  I mustered the courage to write her a letter ten years ago this week, saying the 1st grade class was now the 1st graduating class of Woodgrove High School.  

Handwritten notes from Madeleine Albright. [Courtesy of Maura Walsh-Copeland]

I asked if she would be a graduation guest speaker, and to my great surprise, she called me to say she would love to.  This set in motion months of stealth planning, including sneaking her in a side door.  The program started late so we had plenty of time to chat, setting the stage for keeping in touch.  Since then, she considered Woodgove HS another “neighborhood” school.

That year Madeleine agreed to do a book signing at the Hillsboro Old Stone School – but with one condition.  She said she had been passing the Old Stone School since 1968 on her way to her farm, and she wanted to know if she could “peek” inside.  I made sure she got the grand tour.  

In a shy voice, Madeleine told me the night before that she didn’t think many people would be coming to her book signing, calling herself a “former somebody.”  She was blown away when I said we had already pre-sold almost all the books.  

Madeleine’s staff had insisted that the summer book signing be in the airconditioned indoors, but Madeleine overruled them.  She asked me to setup outside so that she could have more time to chat with her neighbors. 

When we came out of the school after the tour, she was stunned to see over 350 people waiting to see her.  As her book signing aide, I heard so many amazing, wickedly funny stories of her farm neighbors and friends who came to see her from all walks of life.  

Madeleine Albright during a 2012 book signing at Hillsboro’s Old Stone School.

There was one lady who said, “I read your memoir, so why should I read your new book?”  Madeleine was a bit taken aback, so I answered, “In Madeleine’s memoir you learned she was educated to be Secretary of State, but in Prague Winter you will learn she was born to be Secretary of State.”  Madeleine stared at me for a moment and said, “Thank you.  I should write that down!”

That year Madeleine also came to a fundraiser in Waterford on a Sunday afternoon.  After she had a glass of red wine and a stumble, I grabbed her arm and asked if she had eaten anything.  She quietly said no, because she went to her gal pal Barbra Streisand’s concert in Brooklyn the night before, stayed up all night gabbing with Barbra, and slept in the car on the drive to Virginia.  This was when she was 75!  

I scolded her in her birthday letter for that “ninny fall-risk move,” and said taking care of her health will be her best gift to her family.  I was sure I’d never hear from her after that, but Madeleine showed her graciousness with a handwritten note that said:

I must say the letter you wrote to me is one of the most thoughtful I have ever received.  I thought your point about the “birthday gift” to my children and grandchildren was inspirational.  I shall cherish it, and try to follow your advice.”

Madeleine came to other events in Loudoun, some at my request and some at Mayor Kelly Burk’s.  In 2016 Madeleine agreed to come back to Woodgove H.S., for an International Youth Festival, and to give my then college-grad son career advice.  

I refrained from calling her names for a while, until 2017 when I told her she was a “brick,” to let her know her memorial brick had been installed in the Town of Hillsboro along with others.  

She would ask about Hillsboro happenings like the new fire station across from her farm, details about a telecom tower on Short Hill next to her property, and said “thanks for warning me about Route 9” when it was under construction.

She also came to Leesburg for one of Mayor Burk’s events.  It was then I told her on my visit to see cousins in Paris I met someone she knew as a teenager.

Apparently, Madeleine’s first crush was on a French diplomat’s son.  He had a younger brother, Georges, who had a crush on Madeleine’s sister Kathy.  Madeleine was almost giddy looking forward to teasing her sister and wrote “ittruly is a small world!”  At a 2019 event in Lucketts, Madeleine and Kathy asked me to “Say hi to Georges.”  

Madeleine’s note in 2020 showed how she was dealing with Covid-19 like everyone else saying, “I have been doing a lot of zooming.  It is useful but doesn’t provide a lot for an extrovert like me who needs energy from people.”  

Over the years Kelly Burk and I had a “friendly feud” over who could get Madeleine to come back to Loudoun the most.  Even though it was probably a tie – we all won in Loudoun when Madeleine came back to the “neighborhood,” where she will be missed.

5 thoughts on “Our Neighbor, Madeleine Albright

  • 2022-03-25 at 12:25 pm
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    Madeleine Albright was a delightful lady. We shall not see her likes again. And what a lovely tribute penned by Maura Walsh-Copeland. Loudoun can always be proud of having such a wonderful progeny. To Ms. Albright’s family & loved ones, please accept my deepest condolences.

  • 2022-03-25 at 8:19 pm
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    Thank you for this lovely tribute to a woman who was a citizen of the world as well as a neighbor in Loudoun. May she rest in peace.

  • 2022-03-26 at 3:18 pm
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    “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t vote for Hillary Clinton.” ~2016 Madeleine Albright. Did she say that to these young little girls?

    • 2022-03-27 at 11:32 am
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      KGHLove, you have misquoted Madeleine.
      What she said in 2016, and for many years before was, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help (support) each other.”
      In my letter to her 10 years ago I asked for her help during a tumultuous time at Woodgrove High School saying, “You inspired a number of these students in 2000, and would be welcomed again in 2012, perhaps to give them the understanding that whatever they have gone through will prepare them well for their next challenges and adventures.”
      Madeleine stepped up, not only to help me, but to help that first graduating class at Woodgrove with words of encouragement.
      Her quotation was not a throw-away line — it was a guide post for how she lived.

      • 2022-03-28 at 10:08 am
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        And you have left out the context. Which is critical to understanding the quote.

        She was speaking at a rally for Hillary Clinton (D).

        It was a disgusting remark. Not all that much different that when then-candidate Biden (D) told the audience of an “urban” radio show… “you ain’t black” if they didn’t vote for him.

        M. Albright had an impressive resume, but clearly she too believed in identity (plantation) politics.

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