Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy

AFSA’s Award for Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy honors those who have made extraordinary contributions to diplomacy and the diplomatic profession over many years. The American Foreign Service Association established its award for Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy in 1995. By giving this high-profile award, AFSA also seeks to bring greater recognition to its other awards, including its unique annual awards for constructive dissent.

Originally, there were no criteria beyond those implied by the award’s name. First in 2009, and later in 2016, the AFSA Governing Board refined the criteria guidelines to be as follows:

  • The nominee should have at least a decade of service to diplomacy and foreign policy development, and have made an enduring, positive impact on the diplomatic profession itself, including but not limited to promoting the Foreign Service’s primary role in foreign policy within the executive and legislative branches and strengthening the institution of the Foreign Service.
  • The nominees are normally retired career diplomats, but may include other individuals in exceptional circumstances. When looking at an individual who was not a career member of the Foreign Service, one must consider the effect that the individual has had on promoting the role of the Foreign Service and championing diplomacy. 
  • The nominees are considered for their accomplishments during both active duty and in retirement. The enduring impact of their work on diplomacy, the profession, and diplomatic institutions and practices is particularly important.
  • Nominees must be able to attend the awards ceremony in person.

The presentation takes place during AFSA’s annual Awards Ceremony, typically in June in the Benjamin Franklin Diplomatic Room of the State Department. The Secretary of State is invited to present this award. If the Secretary is unable to attend, a distinguished individual who has worked with the recipient is asked to present the award. Colin Powell presented the award to Thomas Pickering and to George Shultz; Elliot Richardson presented the award to Frank Carlucci; Mr. Carlucci presented it to Lee Hamilton; Robert Zoellick presented it to Richard Lugar; Senator Lugar presented to award to Senator Nunn; and Lawrence Eagleburger presented the award to Joan Clark. Honorees are presented with a globe and certificate. Click here for a complete list of previous recipients.

For information on these awards, please contact AFSA's Awards Coordinator, Perri Green, at or (202) 719-9700.


On June 23, 2016, the American Service Association honored Ambassador (ret.) Ruth Davis as the 2016 recipient of this distinguished award. AFSA is proud to single out Ambassador Davis in honor of her distinguished Foreign Service career and lifelong devotion to diplomacy. The award was presented to Ambassador Davis by the Counselor of the Department of State, Ambassador Kristie Kenney. Click here to read Ambassador Davis's memorable acceptance speech; you can click here to watch a recording of it.

Ambassador Davis was born in 1943 and received a bachelor’s degree (magna cum laude) from Spelman College and a master’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley. During her 40-year career in the Foreign Service, she served as chief of staff in the Africa Bureau (2005-2009), distinguished advisor for international affairs at Howard University (2003-2005), Director General of the Foreign Service and director of human resources (2001-2003), director of the Foreign Service Institute (1997-2001), principal deputy assistant secretary for consular affairs (1995-1997), ambassador to the Republic of Benin (1992-1995), consul general in Barcelona (1987-1991), and a consular officer in nations around the globe. She established FSI’s School of Leadership and Management in 1999, improved crisis management instruction and training for Locally Employed Staff, and led the Diplomatic Readiness Initiative that boosted Foreign Service hiring. She has also helped to increase diversity in the Foreign Service, particularly as president and adviser to the Thursday Luncheon Group.

Since her retirement in 2009, Amb. Davis has served as the chair (and a founding member) of the International Women’s Entrepreneurial Challenge, an organization devoted to promoting women’s economic empowerment by creating an international network of businesswomen. She also chairs the selection committee for the Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship at Howard University’s Ralph Bunche International Affairs Center, where she helps to oversee the annual selection process. Finally, as vice president of the Association of Black American Ambassadors, she participates in activities involving the recruitment, preparation, hiring, retention, mentoring and promotion of minority Foreign Service employees.

Davis currently serves on the Board of Visitors for the Defense Language Institute, the Board of Directors of the Senior Seminar Alumni Association, the Advisory Council of the Foreign Service Youth Foundation and the Board of the American Academy of Diplomacy. She is vice president of the Washington Institute of Foreign Affairs, and the president of the International Mission of Mercy, USA.  She also acts as a senior adviser to the Thursday Luncheon Group and the International Career Advancement Program at the University of Denver, where she serves annually as a counselor and speaker and was honored with ICAP’s first Diversity Award for visionary leadership and fostering diversity within foreign affairs. Finally, Davis is a member of the American Foreign Service Association and the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training.

Davis, a career ambassador, has received the Department of State’s Superior Honor Award, Arnold L. Raphel Memorial Award and Equal Employment Opportunity Award; the Secretary of State’s Achievement Award; the Director General’s Foreign Service Cup; two Presidential Distinguished Service Awards; and Honorary Doctorates of Law from Middlebury and Spelman Colleges. She was recently named to The Economist’s 2015 Global Diversity List as one of the Top 50 Diversity Figures in Public Life.