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Read my pin

Published March 30. 2013 09:02AM

I am a big fan of a local artist, Jill Elizabeth in East Stroudsburg and her Liztech pins. My collection is modest with only about 30 in my jewelry drawer. Whenever I wear one, people will comment on it. I usually wear one that speaks to me that day, or matches what I'm wearing. Right now I'm wearing "Rabbit Rabbit" because it's a bunny and speaks "Easter" to me.

A few weeks ago, my friend Stephanie and I went to hear Madeleine Albright speak at Lehigh University.

She was an eloquent speaker, giving a personal insight to her stellar career, which includes being the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, from 1993-1997 and the 64th U.S. Secretary of State, the first female to hold that title. Today she is a professor at Georgetown University and has authored five books.

While very impressed with her career, I admit to being more fascinated with her book that Stephanie bought after the lecture ..."Read My Pins: Stories From a Diplomat's Jewel Box."

I had forgotten how well known she was for her pin collection. The book features 200 of them. It is through her pins that Secretary Albright expresses her sense of humor and her humanity. They also became diplomatic aides. The pin that started that diplomatic service is a serpent.

As America's ambassador to the United Nations, a period following the first Persian Gulf War, a U.S.-led coalition rolled back Iraq's invasion of neighboring Kuwait. As part of the settlement, Iraq was required to accept UN inspections and to provide full disclosure about its nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs.

"When Saddam Hussein refused to comply, I had the temerity to criticize him. The government-controlled Iraqi press responded by publishing a poem entitled 'To Madeleine Albright, Without Greetings,'" says Albright in her book. The poet refers to her as an "unmatched clamor-maker" and an "unparalleled serpent."

Soon after the poem was published, in Oct. 1994 she was to meet with Iraqi officials. She remembered her pin of a snake coiled around a branch and decided to wear it. She doubted the Iraqis would make the connection but upon leaving the meeting, a member of the UN press corps, who was familiar with the poem, asked Albright why she chose to wear that particular pin.

"As the television cameras zoomed in on the brooch, I smiled and said that it was just my way of sending a message."

And so it began.

When she wears her blue bird pin, it's always with its head soaring upward. On Feb. 24, 1996, Cuban fighter pilots shot down two unarmed civilian aircraft over international waters between Cuba and Florida. "The Cubans knew they were attacking civilian planes yet gave no warning, and in the official transcripts they boasted about destroying the cojones of their victims. At a news conference, I denounced both the crime and the perpetrators. I was especially angered by the macho celebration at the time of the killings. 'This is no cojones,' I said, 'it is cowardice.' To illustrate my feelings, I wore the blue bird pin with its head pointing down, in mourning for the free-spirited Cuban-American fliers."

From then on, her jewelry became a part of "my personal diplomatic arsenal. Former President George H.W. Bush had been known for saying, 'Read my lips.' I began urging colleagues and reporters to 'Read my pins.'"

She felt it worthwhile to inject an element of humor and spice into the diplomatic routine through her pins.

"The world has had its share of power ties; the time seemed right for the mute eloquence of pins with attitude," she states in the book.

When she met with the Russian foreign minister, Igo Ivanov on nuclear arms, he looked at the arrowlike pin she wore and asked, "Is that one of your interceptor missiles?" and she said, "Yes, and as you can see, we know how to make them very small. So you'd better be ready to negotiate."

Once when she was booked to give a speech in Las Vegas to travel industry executives, the organizer of the event asked what pin she was going to wear. Albright told her she only brought along a necklace. The woman said, "But that's impossible! We all expect you to wear a pin." So, she went shopping, bought a pin and accepted the fact that when she appears in public, a pin is a part of her ensemble.

She bought herself a set of three enamel ships with her three daughters in mind. "The ships are beautiful, graceful, and moving along at full sail, having long since left home port."

She was given a pin by a complete stranger after speaking at the D-Day Museum in New Orleans in 2006, simply because, his late mother loved her. It had been a gift from his father to his mother for their 50th wedding anniversary, who later lost her life due to Hurricane Katrina. Both the father and son believed she would have wanted Albright to have it and honored for her to accept it.

"I call it the Katrina pin. I wear it as a reminder that jewelry's greatest value comes not from intrinsic materials or brilliant designs but from the emotions we invest. The most cherished attributes are not those that dazzle the eye but those that recall to the mind the face and spirit of a loved one."

She ends the book by saying, "Pins are inherently expressive. Elegant or plain, they reveal much about who we are and how we hope to be perceived. I was fortunate to serve at a time and in a place that allowed me to experiment by using pins to communicate a diplomatic message. One might scoff and say that my pins didn't exactly shake the world. To that I can reply only that shaking the world is precisely the opposite of what diplomats are placed on Earth to do."

Madeleine Albright, next to Jill Elizabeth, you are my "Pin Hero."

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