The Foreign Service Journal - September 2016
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mbassador Ruth A. Davis received

the American Foreign Service Asso- ciation’s Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy Award in

recognition of her distinguished

Foreign Service career and lifelong

devotion to diplomacy at a June 23

ceremony in the State Department’s

Benjamin Franklin Room (for her

speech and coverage of the ceremony, see AFSA News).

Born in 1943, Amb. Davis received a bachelor’s degree from

Spelman College and a master’s degree from the University of

California, Berkeley’s School of Social Work in 1968. She joined

the U.S. Foreign Service in 1969.

A trailblazer throughout her 40-year career, Amb. Davis was

the first female senior watch officer (SWO) in the Operations Center (1982-1984), the first African-American director of the

Foreign Service Institute (1997-2001) and the first African-Amer-

ican female

Director General of the Foreign Service


She was also the first and only African-American woman to be


Career Ambassador

, the longest-serving officer at that

level and, upon retirement, the highest-ranking Foreign Service

officer. She is also the first African American to be awarded

AFSA’s Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy Award.

Amb. Davis’ early overseas postings were as a consular officer

in Kinshasa, Nairobi, Tokyo and Naples. She went on to hold

many senior positions besides those in which she was the “first.”

She served as consul general in


(1987-1991), ambassa-

dor to


(1992-1995), principal deputy assistant secretary for

consular affairs (1995-1997), distinguished adviser to the

Ralph Bunche International Affairs Center at Howard University


2005) and senior adviser in the

Bureau of African Affairs


2009). Amb. Davis retired from the Foreign Service in 2009.

She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the State

Department’s Superior Honor Award (1999), and its Arnold L.

Raphel Memorial Award for mentoring other, especially junior,

officers (1999). She also received two Presidential Distinguished

Service Awards (1999 and 2002), the Secretary of State’s Distin-

guished Award (2003), the State Department’s Equal Employ-

ment Opportunity Award (2005), the Director General’s Foreign

Service Cup and honorary doctorates fromMiddlebury and

Spelman Colleges.

A lover of opera, Amb. Davis has remained engaged and

active in retirement. She holds leadership positions in and works

with a variety of organizations to promote women’s economic

empowerment, recruitment and retention of minority members

of the Foreign Service, and the expansion of career-long training

in the Foreign Service.

Foreign Service Journal

Editor Shawn Dorman interviewed

Amb. Davis on June 9.


Foreign Service Journal:

Congratulations! I can’t think of a

more deserving person for the Lifetime Contributions to American

Diplomacy Award.

Ruth A. Davis:

Thank you.


You grew up in the South during the last years of legal

segregation. What impact did this have on you and your decision

to go into public service?



The recipient of AFSA’s 2016 Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy Award

talks about her Foreign Service career and her pioneering work to advance diversity

and promote professional excellence at the State Department.