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Kean Graduate to Be Pallbearer at Madeleine Albright Funeral

Kean Alumnus and Adjunct Professor George M. Gilcrest with former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright

When the funeral for former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright is held Wednesday, April 27 at Washington National Cathedral, Kean University Distinguished Alumnus and Adjunct Professor George M. Gilcrest will be at her side as he had been so many times before. 

This time, the former Diplomatic Security Service agent who was on Albright’s security detail will serve as a pallbearer.

Gilcrest, who graduated from Newark State College, Kean’s predecessor, with a bachelor's degree in social studies education in 1970, is one of 10 members of the Diplomatic Security Service selected by Albright’s family for the honor.  

Madeleine Albright and George Gilcrest stand next to each other, smiling.

“I'm humbled and honored, and I'm glad I could do this,” he said. “It's quite a privilege for me.”

Gilcrest was a diplomatic corps security agent from 1986 to 1998. In addition to protecting Albright, he served as bodyguard for former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Princess Diana and other global dignitaries when they came to the U.S. 

“George Gilcrest had access to the highest levels of power in the world,” said Kean President Lamont O. Repollet, Ed.D. “This honor from Madeleine Albright’s family recognizes his dedication and professionalism, traits we work to foster in all of our students.”

Gilcrest was assigned to Albright’s detail from 1994 until 1998, when she was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and secretary of state. He traveled with her to diplomatic hotspots and danger zones around the world.

“I used to tell her, ‘Madam Ambassador, you take me to all the best places,’” he joked.

Gilcrest describes Albright as a “very warm, kind and caring” person. He recalled the conversations they had walking from the Waldorf Tower to the United Nations on Manhattan’s East Side.

“She would ask me things about what she was working on at the U.N.,” he said. “Maybe she knew I was a former history teacher, I don't know, but she would pepper me with questions about what I thought about this or that. She really made me feel like I wasn't just the guy with the gun; I was part of her team.”

After graduating from Kean, Gilcrest taught history in Roselle Park for 16 years before joining the Diplomatic Security Service. He left the service in 1998 to go into private security for Lucent Technologies and other companies. He currently supervises student teachers as an adjunct and clinical supervisor in Kean University’s School of Health and Human Performance. Gilcrest received Kean’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2017 and is also inducted into the University’s Athletics Hall of Fame for basketball.

“George Gilcrest's career and accomplishments are a good reminder of the positive effect Kean’s 100,000 alumni have in their workplaces and the public sphere,” said Carol Ann Koert, Kean’s director of alumni engagement. 

While serving on Albright’s security detail, Gilcrest recalls some scary moments, such as staying at a Holiday Inn in Sarajevo that had been partly blown apart by tank rounds and having to safely escort the ambassador through an area known as “Sniper Alley.”

“Another time when she was secretary of state visiting the same location, we were driving in the motorcade and a Russian tank had us in its sights during our entire trip down the main street. That was kind of nerve-wracking,” he said.

When he learned of Albright’s death last month, Gilcrest said he was saddened. For several years after leaving the diplomatic protective services, he and another agent would send her flowers on her birthday, but the practice was abandoned over time.

“I often thought about reaching out just to see how she was doing, but I didn't. Now, I regret it,” he said.

However, he now has a chance to honor Albright with his service one more time. 

“We stood by her in life, so now we're going to stand by her in death as well,” he said.