Examples of Excellence

From among the legions of outstanding diplomats who have served the United States since the middle of the 20th century, the following 25 individuals were chosen to exemplify the highest standards of the profession. The list is by no means intended to be exhaustive, or to suggest that others are not equally, if not more, deserving of such attention.


Frances E. Willis (1899-1983)

Frances Willis was the third woman to enter the U.S. Foreign Service and the first to make the Foreign Service a career, the first to rise through the ranks to become an ambassador and the first to be honored with the title of career ambassador (in 1962). She graduated from Stanford University with a Ph.D. in 1923 and became an assistant professor of Political Science at Vassar College. However, Willis quickly changed careers, stating in a 1953 interview, "I didn't just want to teach political science, I wanted to be a part of it." Though her first assignment was to Chile, most of her subsequent posts were in Europe – including Sweden, Belgium, Spain, England and Finland. Willis was serving in Brussels when the Nazis invaded in 1940. Her experience and knowledge of Europe led President Dwight Eisenhower to appoint her in 1953 as the first U.S. ambassador to Switzerland (the United States had previously sent only representatives of minister rank), and in 1961 President John F. Kennedy appointed her ambassador to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Willis retired in 1964. In May 2006 she was honored with a stamp by the U.S. Postal Service.

  • Calkin, Homer L. Women in the Department of State: Their Role in American Foreign Affairs. Office of the Deputy Under Secretary for Management, Department of State, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1978.