Not All Ambassadors Start with Degrees in International Studies

The US Embassy in Prague, Czech Republic

Hearing about the death of Shirley Temple Black got me to wondering if any current US ambassadors have such a compelling background. Alas, it’s hard to match Temple Black, who became a film superstar at the age of six and went on to star in over 40 movies before becoming ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia. But I did find several ambassadors whose lives before diplomatic service strike me as interesting.

I guess “interesting” sounds pretty bland. But saying something such as “fascinating,” “captivating,” or “spellbinding” would be a little over the top. If I were going for clicks (like some news sites that will remain nameless), I’d have titled this post “Twelve Ambassadors Whose Backgrounds Will Stun You.” While that’s pretty far from the truth, I really do think that their stories are still, well, interesting.

First, a word about my selections: I started with The American Foreign Service Association’s “List of Ambassadorial Appointments,” where I clicked on the names of people with links to US Department of State bios.

Most of those listed below are political appointees rather than career diplomats. The former seems to offer the larger amount of noteworthy backgrounds. Of course, getting an advanced degree in international relations, attending the National War College, or becoming a career member of  the Foreign Service is pretty impressive. For ambassadors, though, it’s just not uncommon enough to earn a mention here.

By the way, my definition of interesting is purely subjective. No offense to those who didn’t make the cut.

So here’s what it takes, in a roundabout way, to become an ambassador . . . that and the good favor of a sitting president:

Thomas Hart Armbruster
US ambassador to the Marshall Islands
Prior to joining the Foreign Service, Armbruster was a reporter for KGMB-TV, a CBS affiliate in Hawaii.

Matthew Barzun
US ambassador to the United Kingdom
Barzun was the fourth employee at CNET and later became executive vice president and chief strategy officer of the tech website. While there, he launched and led in the development of

John Berry
US ambassador to Australia
Berry previously served as director of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation as well as director of the National Zoo.

James Costos
US ambassador to Spain and Andorra
Before becoming an ambassador, Costos was vice president of global licensing and retail for HBO. Prior to that he served as a vice president for the Italian company Tod’s, seller of shoes and luxury leather goods, and for Hermès of Paris.

Caroline Kennedy
US ambassador to Japan
The daughter of President John F. Kennedy, Ambassador Kennedy is the author and editor of several books, an education advocate, and a supporter of the arts. As president and director of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, she helped create the Profile in Courage Award.

Alexandar Mark Laskaris
US ambassador to Guinea
Earlier in his career, Laskaris taught English and mathematics at St. Boniface High School in Galeshewe, Northern Cape Province, South Africa.

Jeffrey Levine
US ambassador to Estonia
Levine was previously a newspaper reporter for seven years and was a founding staff member of USA Today.

Bruce Oreck
US ambassador to Finland
For several years running, Oreck was the winner of the Colorado State men’s masters body building championship. He has also put together one of the leading fine-mineral collections in the US, and he and his wife donate mineral specimens to museums across the country.

David D. Pearce
US ambassador to Greece
Before joining the Foreign Service, Pearce was a journalist, working for the Associated Press in Ohio; the Rome Daily American in Italy; United Press International in Brussels, Lisbon, and Beirut; and the Washington Post. He also worked as a writer-editor in the book service of the National Geographic Society.

Samantha Power
US permanent representative to the United Nations
Born in Ireland, Power came to America when she was nine years old. She has been a journalist, contributing regularly to The Atlantic MonthlyThe New RepublicThe New York Review of Books, and The New Yorker Magazine, and she won the Pulitzer Prize for her book  “A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide.

Theodore Sedgwick
US ambassador to Slovakia
Sedgwick founded Pasha Publications and Io Energy and was president of Red Hills Lumber Co., which produces pine flooring. He has also served on the boards of a wide range of organizations, including Inside Higher Ed; the Folger Shakespeare Library; the Shakespeare Theater Co.; the Gennadius Library in Athens, Greece; the Civil War Preservation Trust; and the Ducks Unlimited affiliate Wetlands America Trust.

Alexa L. Wesner
US ambassador to Austria
Wesner was born to a German mother and Latvian father who had immigrated to the United States. In high school she was an all-American in track and cross country, and in 2003 she qualified as a member of the US national team for the World Triathlon Championships.

[photo: “American Embassy in Prague,” by Matt Dell, used under a Creative Commons license]