In Memoriam: Ken Duberstein and Madeleine Albright

A remembrance.

Kenneth M. Duberstein

Born 1944 – Died 2022

President Ronald Reagan’s White House Chief of Staff and Deputy Chief of Staff; Assistant and Deputy Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs; Deputy Under Secretary of Labor under President Ford; Director of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs at the U.S. General Services administration; Aide to Senator Jacob Javits

For a detailed biography of Ken Duberstein, see The Washington Post and the New York Times of March 5, 2022, and Wikipedia.

In August 1989, a close friend of Ken and me, Howard Paster, called me to say that Ken Duberstein was starting a government affairs firm and was looking for a Democrat to join him. I knew who Ken was but did not really know him. Ken and I met a day or so later and a few days after that I resigned from the law firm in which I was a partner, and the Duberstein Group was born.

I retired from the Duberstein Group in 2015.

Ken and I had a “rule.” If either of us said something to the other “in confidence” it would not be shared with anyone else. As far as I know neither of us ever broke the rule.

At some point, I learned that Ken’s and my first jobs were quite similar.

After getting his master’s degree in 1966, Ken’s first job was in Senator Javits’ office as his driver.

After graduating from law school in 1964, my first job was as a Special Assistant Attorney General. My first responsibility as a new lawyer was to serve as Attorney General Walter Mondale’s driver.

You can learn a lot when you are someone’s driver, even before the age of cell phones.

Once the firm was organized, Ken and I agreed that each of us would also work on projects outside of the firm.

Ken decided to spend more time expanding his role in the business community. He served on the Boards of Directors of many companies including The Boeing Company, Conoco Phillips, the Fleming Companies, the St. Paul companies, Inc, and Fannie Mae. He also served on the Board of Governors for the American Stock Exchange and NASD.

In addition to his commercial boards, Ken was appointed as a Trustee of the Kennedy Center and there were a variety of other non-profit activities in which he engaged. For example, he chaired a senior advisory committee for the Institute of Politics at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

To be fair, the time he spent in the broader business community did more to help the firm grow than my work in the non-profit world.

We shared the happinesses and sadnesses of our lives.

I could not have had a better partner or friend. He is missed.

Madeleine K. Albright

Born 1937 – Died 2022

Secretary of State, United States Ambassador to the United Nations, National Security Council, Aide to Senator Ed Muskie

For a detailed biography of Madeleine Albright, go to

Several months before her death, former secretary of state Madeleine K. Albright wrote some reflections on the importance of making the most of life. Her thoughts are excerpted here from the new forward of the paperback edition of her most recent book Hell and other Destinations: A 21st Century Memoir.

My home city, Washington, is not yet a state and is therefore without U.S. senators it can call its own. We do, however, have some very old cemeteries. Racked by weather and time, their headstones typically resemble the teeth of an out-punched boxer: some still upright, some crooked or broken, some clumped together, and others separated by irregular gaps. Study closely enough the barely legible birth and death dates inscribed on their well-worn surfaces, and it becomes hard to hold back tears. A large portion of the interred are children.

As this evidence attests, through much of the past, life has been a gamble that many lost without ever being given a fair chance to succeed. For centuries, families routinely bore half a dozen offspring or more and, shortly after, on average, buried several of them. In some countries, this is still the case. Billions who began life never reached the age at which it was possible to appreciate any but the most basic appetites of existence, let alone explore the liberties, big and small, that many of us now take for granted. Add in the multitudes of young men and women whose tenure on Earth ended abruptly due to war, genocide, mishap, or plague, and it is shaming to see how frivolously we who still draw breath use many of the hours God gives us.

This is something I have thought about more and more in recent years, and it is why I have always preferred doers to idlers, whiners, and excuse-makers. As I have written, introspection is hardly my strong point, but as the author now of three memoirs, I have had numerous chances to reflect on what I have seen, felt, thought, and done.

Assessing myself, I have tried to be honest without overdoing it. People intent on finding fault with me can do their own research. I have, however, admitted to an array of shortcomings including pride, ambition, fits of hot temper, occasional bouts of insecurity, and an affinity for sweets.

In foreign policy, my area of expertise, I have been compelled at regular intervals to modify my views in light of new information without abandoning certain basic principles. “Genius” is often defined as the ability to be right the first time; unable to meet that standard consistently, I still strive to be right eventually. My parents taught me what the best teachers tell us all: that it is no sin to make a mistake, but unpardonable not to try to make the most of our talents. To me, resilience of spirit (far more than brilliance of intellect) is the essential ingredient of a full life.

No matter how smart we are, we can allow sorrows and grievances to overwhelm us, or we can respond positively to setbacks — be they caused by our own misjudgments or by forces beyond our control. This choice has rarely been starker than in the past two years. As individuals, we have had to adapt to the shock of unwelcome and unexpected circumstances. Collectively, we have had to bounce back not only from the pandemic but also from doubts about our willingness to pursue social justice, our power to make self-government succeed and our capacity to prevent advanced technology from causing more harm than good. Worldwide, we have undergone a period of trial that has changed us in ways not yet fully revealed.

Clearly, our future leaders will have to be gutsy and resourceful, and so, each in our own way, will we. To those who despair of that possibility, I have a measure of sympathy but little patience. There is no shortage of worthwhile work to be done and, as those broken headstones remind us, no surplus of seasons in which to achieve our goals.

So let us buckle our boots, grab a cane if we need one, and march.