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Harriet Elam-Thomas: A Career Well Served

Harriet Elam-Thomas grew up in Boston, the youngest of five children. She graduated from Simmons College and later earned a Master’s Degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts. Beginning a four-decade career in the Foreign Service, Elam-Thomas served her first tour in Senegal, worked in public diplomacy in Mali and Cote D’Ivoire, was Cultural Attaché in Athens, Director of the Cultural Center in Istanbul, Counselor of Public Affairs in Brussels, and Counselor of the U.S. Information Agency. In 1999, President Bill Clinton nominated her to be U.S. Ambassador to Senegal; she served in that capacity from 2000-2002. From 2003 to 2005, Elam-Thomas was the Diplomat-in-Residence at the University of Central Florida. She retired at the rank of Career Minister. Read more

Foreign Service Newly-Weds in 1960s Yemen

Since the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, Yemen was been a hot spot for unrest in the Middle East. The 1960s saw instability and hostile relations between the socialist South Yemen and the authoritarian Yemen Arab Republic (YAR), also known as North Yemen. The YAR was in the midst of a bloody civil war that would rage for the majority of the decade and would draw Saudi Arabia and Nasser’s Egypt into one of the region’s intractable conflicts. Even today, Yemen continues to be ravaged by internal conflicts with regional partners using the nation as a battlefield to promote their interests in and influence over the Middle East.

The United States recognized the YAR when they deposed King and Imam Muhammad al-Badr who had only risen to the throne the week prior following his father’s death. However, as the fighting continued to tear across the country and the Egyptian military, who at that time were the guarantors of the YAR’s fight against the royalist factions, took increasingly provocative acts against Americans in Yemen, the U.S. Secretary of State made the decision to close its embassy in Sana’a in 1967. The city was captured by republican rebels later that year.

David and Marjorie Ransom were newlywed Foreign Service Officers who worked at the U.S. Embassy in Taiz, Yemen from 1966 until its closure in 1967. David Ransom also served in Tehran, Beirut, Jeddah, the Department of State, Abu Dhabi, the Department of Defense, Damascus, finishing off his thirty two-year career as the U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain. Marjorie Ransom served in Amman, Mumbai, Tehran, Beirut,  Abu Dhabi, Damascus, and Cairo over a period of thirty eight years. Read more

The Lion King of Swaziland

King Sobhuza II was proclaimed King of Swaziland at the age of four months and would rule for 83 years, becoming the world’s longest-reigning monarch. His grandmother, with help from his uncle, acted as regent of Swaziland until his coronation in December 1921, when his name was changed to Ngwenyama, which means “The Lion.” Sobhuza’s leadership and stature were key to Swaziland’s gaining independence from British administration and in resisting the incorporation of the small landlocked country into the Union of South Africa.

In 1922, Sobhuza challenged the 1907 partition of the Swazi lands by the British High Commissioner, traveling to Britain with a Swazi delegation to meet with King George V and petitioning him to restore the lands to the Swazi people. King George refused, but after 15 years of entreaties agreed to help Sobhuza acquire land from white owners and return it to Swazi occupation. Swaziland remained a Protected State until regaining full sovereignty on September 6, 1968.

During King Sobhuza’s reign, Swaziland was an African success story, a model of political and economic stability. He supported foreign investment and management of the mineral-rich country, hoping that such economic development would benefit his own people, most of whom were living in rural poverty. Read more

Play it again, Anne: Casablanca’s First Female Consul General

While America was evolving into a more gender-equal society at the end of the last century, conflicts could arise when female Foreign Service officers went abroad to lead diplomatic missions in countries whose foreign contacts were not used to seeing women in positions of authority. This sometimes led to uncomfortable situations. It was the perseverance, forbearance and common sense of these women in pushing past the stereotypes to get the job done that paved the way for a new generation of female FSOs.

Anne Cary (seen right) was among them. A native Washingtonian, she joined the Foreign Service as an Economics Officer in June 1974. She served at the State Department in the Operations Center, the office of the Under Secretary for Economic Affairs and other domestic assignments. Overseas, Anne was posted to Brussels, Port-au-Prince, Paris, Addis Ababa, New Delhi, and Casablanca.

Anne Cary overcame gender bias to have a fulfilling career as a Foreign Service Officer, becoming the first female Consul General of Casablanca (1992-1995) and balancing a series of demanding jobs in the State Department with life as a wife and mother. Read more

Lesley Dorman and the Founding of FLO

Lesley Tanburn Dorman devoted her life to her own family and to her wider family – the Foreign Service. Her work to help the families of Foreign Service Officers contributed to the creation of the Family Liaison Office (FLO) at the State Department. Born in England, she met her husband Philip in London, where he was stationed at the U.S. Embassy. She accompanied him to Africa, the Middle East, and Asia before moving to Washington in 1971.

As president of the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW), Lesley Dorman testified at congressional hearings and led a team that drafted the “Report on the Concerns of Foreign Service Spouses and Families” that led to the establishment of FLO in 1978. She was also instrumental in the creation of the Overseas Briefing Center and helped secure survivor annuities and pro-rata pension shares for divorced spouses by testifying on Capitol Hill. In honor of her advocacy, AAFSW created the Lesley Dorman Award to recognize a member each year who has performed outstanding service. Read more

The 2000 Presidential Election – The Florida Recount

The presidential election of November 7, 2000 was one of the most memorable – and controversial – in the history of the United States. It pitted Republican candidate George W. Bush, then governor of Texas and son of former president George H. W. Bush (1989–1993), and Democratic candidate Al Gore, then Bill Clinton’s Vice President. Around 2:15 a.m. numerous news sources and television networks called the State of Florida for Bush and declared him the winner. At 2:30 a.m., Gore called Bush and conceded the election.

However, Gore advisors continued to maintain that with a mere 600 vote margin, no clear winner had emerged. At 3:30 a.m., Gore called Bush back and retracted his concession. Ultimately the 2000 presidential election would hinge on the vote in Florida.  The outcome was one of the closest in U.S. presidential history. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

By November 10th election officials calculated that Bush led by around 400 votes out of almost 6 million cast. In such a close contest Florida law demands a full machine recount in all its 67 counties. But such laws and mechanisms were open to interpretation. Numerous lawsuits and hearings ensued. Voters became familiar with butterfly ballots and hanging chads. Read more

When the Life of the Party Became Ambassador to France

An effective diplomat, dazzling socialite, and the mother of Winston Churchill’s grandson, Pamela Digby Churchill Hayward Harriman won the respect of fellow diplomats and adroitly handled complex problems related to the war in the Balkans, export subsidies, and intellectual property rights during her tenure as U.S. Ambassador to France from 1993-1997. Richard Holbrooke said of her service in Paris: “She spoke the language, she knew the country; she knew its leadership. She was one of the best ambassadors that ever served the United States.”

Pamela Beryl Digby was born in England in March 20, 1920. The daughter of a baron, she was well-educated and moved in prominent circles from a young age. At 19, she married Randolph Churchill. She soon became the confidante of his father, Winston Churchill, and through him she met the administrator of the lend-lease program, Averell Harriman, whom she would marry 30 years later. Together, the Harrimans worked to raise millions of dollars and rebuild the Democratic Party in the 1980’s. Pamela Harriman played such an important role that one biographer called her the “Life of the Party.” Read more

The Foreign Service Exam – Finding a More Diverse FSO

The process to become a Foreign Service Officer is long and grueling. If you successfully pass the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT) multiple choice and essay questions, you then are asked to submit a personal narrative to the Qualifications Evaluation Panel (QEP), which will determine if you will be invited to take the Foreign Service Oral Assessment (FSOA), a day-long assessment comprising a written assessment, structured oral interview, and a structured group exercise. It is extremely competitive — of the approximately 20,000 people who take the FSOT each year, only about 500-700 are actually offered positions in the Foreign Service, about 2-3%.

Previous versions of the exam had their share of critics, however, and were determined to have been biased. In 1976, Alison Palmer filed a class action lawsuit against the Department of State for violating the Civil Rights Act after failing to get several higher ranked positions in the Foreign Service. Read more

The Bombing of U.S. Embassy Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

On August 7, 1998, between 10:30 and 10:40 a.m. local time, the U.S. embassies in Nairobi , Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania were attacked in coordinated truck bombings. Approximately 212 people were killed and an estimated 4,000 wounded in Nairobi,, while the attack killed 11 individuals and wounded 85 in Dar es Salaam. The bombings were timed to mark the eighth anniversary of the deployment of U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia and were later traced to Saudi exile and al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

President Bill Clinton ordered retaliatory military strikes on August 20. In Afghanistan, some 70 American cruise missiles hit three of Osama bin Laden’s training camps. An estimated 24 people were killed, but bin Laden was not present. Thirteen cruise missiles hit a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan where bin Laden allegedly made or distributed chemical weapons. Read more

What Have I Gotten Myself Into? Tales from Rough First Tours

Life in the Foreign Service certainly has its advantages – working in often exotic locales, meeting fascinating people, being a part of important, sometimes historical, events. But, like other glamorous jobs, it has its drawbacks, not the least of which come with the drudgery of first and sometimes second tours, where most FSOs end up doing thankless consular work or drafting tedious reports.

Theresa A. Loar discusses the challenges of entering the Foreign Service as a first-tour consular officer in Mexico City in 1986 and how, despite feeling that her work was unsatisfying, the tour became unexpectedly dramatic. Loar was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning in 2001.

Albert Thibault describes his challenging first tour in Conakry, Guinea as a Political/Economic Officer between 1969 and 1971 when the Portuguese invaded Guinea in an attempt to overthrow the Guinea government. He was by interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy in 2005. Read more