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Condoleezza Rice: cool under pressure

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In a crisis, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice remains almost serene.

As a child in Birmingham, Ala., Rice lived through the racially motivated bombing of a Baptist church that shook her house and killed one of her playmates, along with three other little girls.

Her parents shielded her from the tumult of the times, seeing to it that Rice received a high-achiever’s regimen of tough academics, advanced piano lessons and competitive ice skating.

It’s not that Rice was unaware of what was going on. Her father, a church pastor who later became dean of Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, joined his neighbors in patrolling the streets with rifles to ward off white supremacists. After a salesperson scolded Rice for touching hats intended for white patrons only, her mother told her to touch every hat in the store.

And Rice remembers wondering why the police chief hated black people.

But she wasn’t really angry. Her parents remained optimistic, and that helped instill the calmness that rules Rice’s work.

Rice’s peace of mind is so strong that people feel it when she enters a room. She’s been equally unflappable in the face of demonstrators protesting the war in Iraq and hecklers on the street angry over the slow federal response to Hurricane Katrina.

She takes everything in stride, says her aunt. Nothing seems to bother her.

When her father collapsed in 2000 with heart arrhythmia, Rice arrived while he was still lying on the floor being attended to. She gratefully hugged the woman who called 911, and then, leaning over her father, whispered that she was there and that everyone would take good care of him.

— Adapted from “What Makes Condi Run,” Ann Reilly Dowd, AARP Magazine.

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