It was nearing 11 o’clock at night when the phone rang. “How was the speech?” Ambassador Harriet Elam-Thomas was surprised to hear President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal on the other end, asking her opinion of a speech he had given the night before. This would not be an isolated occurrence in an unusually close relationship between this American ambassador and an African head of state.
Well before serving as the ambassador to Senegal, Elam-Thomas recognized the importance of creating genuine connections and credible personal relationships–at all levels. As she explains in her oral history, “I make it a practice to give respect and honor to the secretaries of all principals with whom I meet at home and abroad.” As ambassador, Elam-Thomas recognized the importance of personal diplomacy and found ways to connect with her most important interlocutor–the sometimes-prickly President Abdoulaye Wade.
A highly honored diplomat, Harriet L. Elam-Thomas’s first overseas tour as a foreign service officer was in the same place she finished her career – Senegal. First serving as Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer in the mid-70s, Elam-Thomas would eventually serve as the Counselor and Acting Deputy Director of the United States Information Agency (USIA) before returning to Senegal as ambassador in 2000.