Madeleine K. Albright, a child of Czech refugees who fled from Nazi invaders and Communist oppressors and then landed in the United States, where she flourished as a diplomat and the first woman to serve as secretary of state, died on Wednesday in Washington. She was 84.

The cause was cancer, her daughter Anne said.

Enveloped by a veil of family secrets hidden from her for most of her life, Albright rose to power and fame as a brilliant analyst of world affairs and a White House counselor on national security. Under U.S. President Bill Clinton, she became the country’s representative to the United Nations (1993-97) and secretary of state (1997-2001), making her the highest-ranking woman in the history of American government at the time.