Behind the Scenes and Beyond the Lecture: Dr. Albright’s Blue Jay Brooch

Westminster College boasts a long, storied history of lecturers who have visited the campus since the founding of the John Findley Green Foundation Lecture, resulting in a variety of behind-the-scenes impressions.

Winston Churchill smoked cigars and drank whiskey during his stay on The Hill at Washington West House, while reporters covering that lecture spent the night across the street on Fraternity Row and grilled students for their perspectives on the event.

Former President Ronald Reagan was descried as affable and gracious while perhaps forgetting a few details here and there.

And at least one speaker arrived in a violent snowstorm, sending campus hosts into a state of protective panic.

Dr. Madeleine K. Albright’s Westminster visit was predictably similar, with college faculty and staff scurrying to prepare for the speaker’s arrival, while the former U.S. Secretary of State and U.N. Ambassador, for her part, remained unshakably calm and pleasant.

Dr. Jeremy Straughn, Associate Professor and Director of Transnational Studies and Director and Assistant Dean of the Churchill Institute for Global Engagement, conducted a question-and-answer session with Albright following her lecture. He says she’s as pleasant in person as she conveyed on stage.

“She’s very gracious and genuinely interested in talking to people that she doesn’t already know something about,” Straughn reflects.

Albright took part in a dizzying number of activities during her stay: She toured America’s National Churchill Museum, became a Churchill Fellow during a private VIP luncheon in her honor, received an honorary doctorate just prior to her lecture and was awarded a rare ticket to Churchill’s famous “Iron Curtain” speech.

The 82-year-old ended her stay by patiently signing countless copies of her recent book, Fascism: A Warning, immediately following her lecture in the Museum undercroft. The line of individuals anxiously waiting to catch a glimpse of Albright and a personalized note in books or programs ran the length of the museum and out the front door.

During the book signing, Straughn noticed Albright wore a brooch in the shape of a bird and immediately knew — based on her famous reputation for selecting pins tailored to events in order to send a message — that the piece of jewelry was significant.

“Would you tell us something about the brooch you’re wearing?” Straughn asked.

Albright responded, simply, “Well, I picked the brooch that looked most like a Blue Jay.”

With that, the unseasonably warm day ended as smoothly as it began, and Albright left her personalized mark on Blue Jay history.


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Sarah Rummel Backer

Sarah Rummel Backer is a Media and Content Strategist at Westminster College in Fulton, MO. A 1992 graduate of the College, Sarah has more than 20 years of experience in marketing and strategic communication in the areas of higher education, medicine, agriculture, and the private business sector.