Remarks by Ambassador Laura E. Kennedy at Her Retirement Flag Ceremony

Ambassador Laura E. Kennedy at her Flag Ceremony
Ambassador Laura E. Kennedy at her Flag Ceremony

Remarks by Ambassador Laura E. Kennedy
Flag Ceremony
Friday, July 12, 2013

Thank you for your kind words. Deputy Secretary Burns, you are simply an icon for the entire foreign affairs community. Director General Thomas-Greenfield,  I remember well as the President of the ‘ultimate’ Senior Seminar; it was a highlight of my career to be first a student in that grand institution and then to direct it.  I still cherish the hope that the State Department will revive the Senior Seminar which was instituted under President Eisenhower and which is well represented in the audience today. Undersecretary Gottemoeller, for whom I  last worked along with our super team in Geneva, is our extraordinary leader of the ‘T’ family of arms control and international security. Rose and I also shared the experience of working as exhibit guides in the former soviet union which gave me an enduring appreciation for public diplomacy. I’m delighted to see a number of the exhibit guide mafia here today.

Thank you all for joining me here today, especially  on a Friday afternoon in July.  At most organizations, people would have been heading for the beach at this juncture but this is the State Department so many of you probably have last memos on your desk to sign out or instructions cables to be dispatched to the field.

How blessed we are to be in this profession, seeking to advance to common good and having amazing experiences along the way. For me, most of all that means the people with whom I’ve worked along the way, both domestic and foreign. Starting at the top, my service was bookended by two extraordinary secretaries of state, Henry Kissinger and Hillary Clinton.  I learned from each one of my bosses over the years, including some difficult ones. They also included the very best, starting with Ambassador Stapleton Roy during my first assignment to the China desk, a time when we had a liaison office in Beijing, not an Embassy. I can’t possibly laud them all but still think of the great team of Ambassador Abramowitz and Grossman in Turkey where we dealt with war, refugee crises and terrorism. Ambassador Beth Jones, who brilliantly led the old Europe and Eurasian empire.  I spent my fair share of time on her famous front office ‘couch of shame’ but what a mentor she was and is to countless numbers of state colleagues. And again. Rose Gottemoeller, who has made the ‘T’ family a wonky but exhilarating place to work and to do great things.  To all my friends and colleagues in the arms control and nonproliferation world, keep up your grand endeavors.

I had the great good fortune to work as closely with the civil service as I did the Foreign Service. I leave with the belief that we will continue to build the synergy between these two reservoirs of talent at the state department. Beyond Foggy Bottom, i have been similarly enriched by  the brilliant public servants at our sister agencies. Looking further afield, we all know that our locally employed staff provide the continuity and lifeblood to our missions abroad. This was literally the case with security guard Mustafa Akarsu who gave his life protecting our embassy in Ankara and I think of the many devoted and tireless staff there, such as Suheyla Tayla.  Among my many heros are Anjela Begjanova, my intrepid guide to the mysteries of the defiantly unique Turkmenistan, and Wendy Lubetkin who actually brought me, a technology troglodyte, into the ranks of twitterdom.

In sum, for 38 years, i have had the privilege of working with an amazing group of people. I am delighted — and awed – to see the talent in the rising generation of State Department all-stars several of whom are now working for you, Deputy Secretary Burns. I value the stint I did at the board of examiners helping to identify new candidates for our ranks and to mentor them and i hope all of you will enjoy similar opportunities. Despite my retirement, I expect to continue to be an inveterate recruiter for the service we all love. I am delighted that we here today an entering diplomat and family friend, Alex Guitard.

I am pleased to see some of our NGO colleagues here today. Yes, sometimes they are our toughest critics but always stalwart partners in the endeavor to build a safer and more just world.

I am joined today by some of my wonderful family but not unfortunately my parents to whom I owe my own commitment to public service. My husband and fellow diplomat John Feeney and sons Martin and Patrick Feeney were with me every step of the way, in spirit at least, since we certainly had our share of separations over the years.

Let me close by stealing a line from the grateful dead – ” what a long, strange – but wonderful – trip it’s been’.  Thank you all.