Remarks by Deputy Secretary Burns at Flag Ceremony for Ambassador Kennedy

Under Secretary William Burns presents the Secretary's Career Achievement Award to Ambassador Laura E. Kennedy July 12, 2013.
Under Secretary William Burns presents the Secretary’s Career Achievement Award to Ambassador Laura E. Kennedy July 12, 2013.

REMARKS AT AMBASSADOR LAURA KENNEDY’S FLAG CEREMONY

DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE WILLIAM J. BURNS

JULY 12, 2013 WASHINGTON, DC

Thank you, Linda. Good afternoon everybody.  I am very pleased to join all of you today to honor a remarkable colleague and friend, and an extraordinary public servant, Ambassador Laura Kennedy.

Whenever I have the opportunity to pause and reflect on our profession, I think of Teddy Roosevelt’s remark that life’s greatest gift is the opportunity to work hard at work worth doing.  By that standard, all of us in the American diplomatic service are extraordinarily fortunate. For all the political trauma and physical risk, for all the uncertainties and tough choices that all of us have to navigate every day in an endlessly complicated world, ours is a chance to make a difference, a rare opportunity through public service to make our country safer and more secure and more prosperous, and to help make the world a little bit more hospitable place for the pursuit of human dignity.

It is our job as diplomats to be persistent in the face of adversity and seemingly intractable dilemmas, and principled in how we conduct ourselves.  And it is our job to stay in the arena, to pick ourselves up after setbacks, to keep pushing important rocks up even the steepest of hills, and to speak truth to power, even when it’s not convenient.

If only the rest of us could do it as well as Laura Kennedy.  Simply put, over the course of the past three-plus decades, Laura has shown us all how it’s done.

Laura is courageous.  She has never shied away from taking on the toughest assignments and the most intractable policy challenges.  As Ambassador, she stood up for human rights in Ashgabat.  She was on the frontlines of our humanitarian relief efforts during Operation Provide Comfort.  She went toe to toe, proverb to proverb, and if duty to country demanded it, vodka to vodka, with Russia’s toughest negotiators during arms control talks in Vienna and Geneva and two separate postings in Moscow.

And that does not even cover her important assignments and leadership positions in what my friend Ryan Crocker calls the hardest of hardship posts – Washington, DC.

Laura is very smart.  Starting from her days as a USIA exhibit guide in the Soviet Union during the 1970s, Laura displayed extraordinary talent for foreign languages, cultural acumen, and negotiation skills.  No policy brief was too complex and no issue too technical for her to master.

Finally, Laura is a tremendous leader.  She always took her work seriously but never took herself too seriously.  She was relentless and exacting but always fun and collegial.  Laura shattered many a glass ceiling and shredded many a stereotype.  Generations of female Foreign Service officers point to Laura as their mentor and inspiration.

Laura – you left a lasting impression everywhere you served and on everyone who has worked with and for you – including members of my own staff.  You will truly be missed. We will miss your professionalism.  We will miss your generous spirit.  And we will miss your positive energy and enormous character.

It is now my great honor to present Laura with the Secretary’s Career Achievement Award “In recognition of her distinguished Foreign Service career from 1975 to 2013 and with appreciation for her many contributions to advance the vital national interests of the United States.”  It is an honor richly deserved.

Congratulations.