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.


Mary A. Ryan (1941-2006)

Mary Ryan entered the Foreign Service in 1966. Initially an administrative officer known for her excellent management skills, she served as a junior officer in Italy, Honduras and Mexico. Ryan was administrative counselor in Cote d’Ivoire and Sudan in the 1980s, ambassador to Swaziland in 1988-90 and director of the Kuwait Task Force after the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Following an assignment as deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of European Affairs, in 1993, Ryan was appointed Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs, a post she held until shortly before her retirement in 2002. In 1999 she was made a career ambassador, becoming only the second woman to achieve that rank (and the first since Frances Willis in 1962). In 1996 she received the Department’s Arnold L. Raphel Award for the mentoring and development of subordinates. As a result of the attacks of September 11, 2001, by foreign terrorists (many of them holding valid U.S. visas), Ryan was singled out for criticism over visa-issuance practices and she left the Service. After her death in 2006, however, the State Department held a special memorial service to celebrate her life and professional achievements.