Diplomacy and foreign policy attract some of the smartest, most dedicated, and most interesting figures in every generation. In this feature, ADST focuses on the fascinating people who have served the United States as diplomats.
John D. Negroponte: A Diplomatic Life of Controversy and Consequence
joined the Foreign Service in 1960 and went on to serve as ambassador to Honduras, Mexico, the Philippines and Iraq. He was also Director of National Intelligence and Deputy Secretary of State.
On joining the Foreign Service . . . “I took the exam in my senior year, in December 1959. I thought I had flunked. I was despondent, but it turned that the five percent extra you got for knowing a foreign language.” (Negroponte knew French).
On Iraq . . . “If your military mission is to remove Saddam Hussein and defeat the Iraqi army, that is a relatively well defined objective and with the strength of the United States and the proper organization and the proper plan you are going to be able to do that. . . . The ensuing period involves helping them rebuild their national institutions, rebuild destroyed infrastructure, organize politically and socially again to operate a functioning society. In most countries that is the work of generations, not days or weeks.”
Explore Ambassador Negroponte’s full oral history here.
Harriet Elam-Thomas: Diversifying Diplomacy
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.
Edward Elson: Entrepreneurial Ambassador to Denmark
The fall of the Soviet Union upset long-established power dynamics, leaving East and Central Europe, in particular, in uncharted waters. The creation of the Nordic-Baltic Eight (NB8), a regional cooperation consisting of Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, and Sweden, helped the Baltics transition away from Cold War-style self-identification toward a more regionally-focused identity.
President Bill Clinton appointed Edward E. Elson U.S. Ambassador to Denmark. During his tenure from 1994-1998, Elson helped to strengthen the bonds of the Nordic-Baltic region and secure American alliances in the region. Elson came to the job with impressive credentials. An entrepreneur, Elson pioneered retail outlets in airports and hotels, creating a lucrative retail empire among other businesses. Elson’s many interests led him to become a Charter Trustee of Phillips Academy, director of Hampton Investments, Rector of the University of Virginia, First Chairman of National Public Radio and Chairman of the Jewish Publication Society.
When One of “The Murrow Boys” Became a Foreign Service Wife
Mary Marvin Breckinridge Patterson was the only female member of the original generation of CBS radio war correspondents known as “The Murrow Boys.” A photojournalist and cinematographer, she studied French, German, Italian, and modern history at Vassar College. While there, she also helped found the National Student Federation of America, and in that way met Edward R. Murrow.
Travelling to Europe in 1939 on photojournalism assignments, Breckinridge was in Switzerland when the Nazis invaded Poland, starting World War II. She traveled to London to photograph the evacuation of English children, one of only four American photographers in England for the first months of the war. In November, Edward R. Murrow invited Breckinridge to join him in a CBS radio broadcast about the changes the war had brought to English villages, and then others. Urging her to speak in a deep voice while broadcasting, he hired her as the first female news broadcaster for the CBS World News Roundup to report from Europe.
She ended up broadcasting 50 reports from seven countries and became part of The Murrow Boys, a group of scholarly correspondents that Murrow assembled before and during the war. Only eleven were in the group, including legendary reporters Charles Collingwood, Richard C. Hottelet, Eric Sevareid, William L. Shirer, and Howard K. Smith, as well as Breckinridge.
Richard Solomon, Negotiating Peace by Other Means
China scholar Richard Solomon, who was an essential component of the “ping-pong diplomacy” that led to the thaw in relations between the United States and China, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After getting a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1966, Solomon taught political science at the University of Michigan. He left in 1971 to join the staff of the National Security Council, where he was responsible for Asian Affairs and worked with National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger on the normalization of relations with China. Solomon joined the Rand Corporation in 1976. Ten years later Secretary of State George Shultz recruited him to the State Department to lead the policy planning staff.
President George H.W. Bush nominated Solomon to be the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs in 1989. In that role, Solomon helped to negotiate the 1991 Paris Agreement which helped end a long-running conflict in Cambodia. Solomon facilitated nuclear non-proliferation discussions between South Korea and North Korea and served in 1992-1993 as ambassador to the Philippines.
A Man for all Transitions: Thomas Reeve Pickering
Considered by many the most accomplished diplomat of his generation, Thomas Reeve Pickering served as U.S. Ambassador to Jordan, Nigeria, El Salvador, Israel, India, and Russia. While serving as the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations the New York Times described him as “arguably the best-ever U.S. representative to that body.” He was Assistant Secretary for the Bureau for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs and ended his federal government career as the Under Secretary for Political Affairs.
Born in Orange, New Jersey in 1931, Ambassador Pickering received a B.A. in history from Bowdoin College and a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He went to the University of Melbourne in Australia on a Fulbright Fellowship and was awarded a second Masters. After serving three years in the U.S. Navy, Pickering joined the Foreign Service in 1959.
Beginning in 2003, Charles Stuart Kennedy conducted a series of oral history interviews with him. Pickering’s detailed accounts of the major diplomatic events of his forty-year career provide historic insights for scholars and tradecraft tips for today’s diplomats. Pickering served during a number of changes of Administration and noted how those transitions allowed leaders at the State Department to change the way the Department conducts business and implements foreign policy.
Harold Saunders: The Original “Peace Processor”
Born in Philadelphia, Harold “Hal” Saunders graduated from Princeton and Yale before serving in the U.S. Air Force. After working in a liaison role in the CIA, he began his career in diplomacy by joining the National Security Council (NSC) in 1961, where he advised on Middle East policy for over a decade and was the NSC’s Mideast expert during the June 1967 Six-Day War. Moving to the State Department, he was Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and Research (INR). He joined an elite negotiating team led by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, shuttling between Israel and Arab states and helping to mediate several Middle East agreements as Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs (NEA). Saunders played a key role in negotiating the 1978 Camp David Accords and the Sinai Disengagement Agreements. In 1979, following the revolution in Iran, Saunders coordinated efforts to secure the release of 66 members of the U.S. embassy staff and held hostage for 444 days. Saunders served under six U.S. presidents.
A pioneer of diplomatic thinking, Saunders was credited with coining the phrase “peace process” to describe U.S. efforts to negotiate a settlement in the Middle East and with developing the “sustained dialogue” model for resolving disputes. He continued his intellectual contributions to the study of international relations by working at several think tanks and writing four books on diplomacy following retirement from the U.S. Government.
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 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.”
Shirley Temple Black: From the Good Ship Lollipop to the Ship of State
Shirley Temple Black served her country in vastly different ways. As a child star in the late 1930s, she made 20 movies by the time she was six years old and was known for films such as “Bright Eyes,” “Curly Top” and “Heidi” as well as songs including “On the Good Ship Lollipop” and “Animal Crackers in My Soup.” She ended her acting career at the age of 22 but would return to the spotlight in service to her nation later in life.
President Nixon appointed her as a delegate to the United Nations. President Ford named her Ambassador to Ghana in 1974, and later as his Chief of Protocol, the first woman to hold that job. In 1989, President George H.W. Bush named her Ambassador to Czechoslovakia. She also served as a member of the Board and Advisory Council of ADST.
Patt Derian, A Straight Shooter for Human Rights
Patricia “Patt” M. Derian was one of the key proponents of integrating human rights in U.S. foreign policy at a time when such a concept was regarded with skepticism, if not outright hostility, by most State Department principals who were more accustomed to the Realpolitik of recently departed Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. After Jimmy Carter won the 1976 election, he nominated Derian to be Coordinator for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs—a post later elevated to Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs. Patt Derian describes her early life and her time in Mississippi, which forced her to confront the appalling reality of racism and poverty, as well as how she came to be the leading advocate of human rights at the State Department.
George Shultz: “Your Country is the United States”
George P. Shultz was Secretary of State for President Reagan from 1982 to 1989, the longest such tenure since Dean Rusk in the 1960s. As Secretary, Shultz resolved the pipeline sanctions problem between Western Germany and the Soviet Union, worked to maintain allied unity amidst anti-nuclear demonstrations in 1983, persuaded President Reagan to dialogue with Mikhail Gorbachev and negotiated an agreement between Israel and Lebanon in response to the Lebanese civil war.
Shultz was a no-nonsense manager and highly-prepared negotiator who did not suffer fools gladly, but was compassionate towards those displaced by political upheaval and appreciative of those who served him and the U.S. well. Thanks to his long tenure as Secretary, Shultz touched the lives of many Foreign Service Officers.
Selwa Roosevelt: The Lucky Chief of Protocol
Selwa “Lucky” Roosevelt is best known for her role as Chief of Protocol of the United States from 1982 to 1989. After graduating from Vassar College in New York, Lucky pursued a career in journalism, covering social events in Washington D.C. She was invited to take the position of Chief of Protocol by Nancy Reagan and Mike Deaver after showcasing her talent as a reporter. As Chief of Protocol, Lucky organized over 1,000 visits of world leaders to the United States and directed the restoration of Blair House, the President’s guest house.
Selwa Roosevelt was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy in November of 2003. She talked about growing up in Tennessee as a daughter of Lebanese Druze immigrants and the start of her long career in journalism. She also described her career as Chief of Protocol at the State Department, the challenges of organizing state events with conflicting personalities and cultures, and how being the wife of career CIA officer Archibald Roosevelt changed her life in ways she never predicted.
Charles Z. Wick: Diplomacy Hollywood-Style
Before being absorbed and restructured by the State Department in 1999, the United States Information Agency (USIA) was an independent agency devoted solely to public diplomacy: dealing with the media, culture, and academic and professional exchanges. Considered by some America’s propaganda agency, its methods spanned broadcasting, printed materials, art exhibits, concerts, and above all, face-to-face personal interactions to communicate information about America’s policies, society and culture.
Charles Z. Wick, a close personal friend of Ronald Reagan, was appointed the director of USIA in 1981 and served until 1989, setting a record for length of service in that job. A former talent agent and film producer, he served through both of President Reagan’s terms and pioneered a more assertive image for the agency.
Melissa Wells — From Vegas Showgirl to Chief of Mission
Melissa Foelsch Wells, accomplished diplomat and four-time ambassador, was among the pioneers who paved the way for women to work in the Foreign Service. The daughter of a physicist and a renowned Estonian opera singer and film star, Wells grew up travelling around the United States and Mexico before settling in New York. She served as Ambassador to Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau (1976–77), Mozambique (1987–90), The Democratic Republic of Congo (1991–93), and Estonia (1998–2001), as well as long service at the United Nations.