2011 American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) Plaque Ceremony

James B. Steinberg
Deputy Secretary of State
Washington, DC
May 6, 2011

MS. JOHNSON: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Susan Johnson, and as president of the American Foreign Service Association, it’s my great privilege to join colleagues from across the Foreign Service and the foreign affairs community to pay tribute – to pay tribute – sound went, thank you – to pay tribute to those who have lost their lives in the line of duty while serving our country overseas.

This morning, I am honored to welcome Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, who will be filling in for Secretary Clinton, who could not be with us today, Director General Nancy Powell, International Broadcasting Bureau Director Richard Lobo, Foreign Commercial Service Deputy Director General Chuck Ford, Foreign Agricultural Service Administrator John Brewer, and USAID Counselor to the Agency Hilda Arellano, and most importantly, the families and colleagues of our honoree today, Eugene F. Sullivan.

The AFSA Memorial Plaques at both ends of the lobby are a testament to the dedication of the men and women who courageously advance America’s interests abroad and promote the grand and enduring ideals that gave our nation birth. They remind us of the profound sacrifice made by these individuals and their families. The AFSA Memorial Plaque behind me was first unveiled on March 3, 1933 by Secretary of State Henry Stimson at the entrance of what is now the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House.

When first unveiled, the AFSA Plaque displayed 65 names representing over 150 years of diplomatic history. Since then, in just over half that time, an additional 169 names have been inscribed on this and other plaques. Today’s ceremony marks the inscription of an additional name, Eugene F. Sullivan, bringing the total to 235.

To the families and friends gathered here, I express our deepest gratitude for the contributions that your loved one made to the Foreign Service and to our nation, and for the sacrifice that he and you have made. He has left a legacy of dedication that serves as inspiration to future generations who pass through these halls.

Family members are an integral part of the Foreign Service. In the year 2000, AFSA established, in cooperation with the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide, a plaque recognizing Foreign Service family members who have died abroad. Every year, on Foreign Affairs Day, a wreath is also placed at that plaque, located on the other side of this lobby, to recognize the sacrifices made by family members who accompany their spouse or parents overseas. Today, we proudly honor all those represented on these hallowed walls.

I now ask you to stand as the United States Armed Forces Color Guard presents the colors. Then please remain standing to join me in saying the Pledge of Allegiance.

(The colors were presented.)

MS. JOHNSON: Now please join me in saying the Pledge of Allegiance.

(The Pledge of Allegiance was recited.)

MS. JOHNSON: Please be seated. I will now read a message from the President of the United States dated May 2nd, 2011:

“I send greetings to all those celebrating Foreign Affairs Day 2011 at the Department of State and at our embassies and consulates around the world. Today, we recognize the many Foreign Service professionals who are the backbone of American foreign policy. From strengthening our alliances and forging new partnerships, to preventing violent conflicts and halting the spread of deadly weapons, you endeavor to promote global health, prosperity, and security. In the Middle East, North Africa, and beyond, you stand up for human rights and universal values, at times at great risk to your own safety. Every one of you is an ambassador for America, and your work embodies the values and ideals that have made our nation a beacon to the world.

“Since taking office, I have committed the United States to a new era of international engagement grounded in mutual interest and mutual respect. Over the past two years, we have succeeded in restoring America’s global leadership. Today, people around the world once again look to the United States as a partner as they pursue a more secure, prosperous, and democratic future for themselves and their children. This dramatic change in America’s standing in the world and the possibilities it creates for greater partnerships and progress would not have been possible without your sacrifices and tireless efforts that you and your families make every day.

“On this day, we also recognize those in your ranks who have made the ultimate sacrifice while in service to our country. We solemnly remember Eugene Francis Sullivan, Jr., a Foreign Service officer with the United States Agency for International Development from 1957 until his untimely death from black water fever, a complication of malaria, on January 21st, 1973 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

“Today, Eugene joins other heroes on the Memorial Plaques honoring those who have given their lives in pursuit of a higher cause. On Foreign Affairs Day, we pay special tribute to all those who have given their lives in service to our nation. I proudly join Secretary Clinton in saluting those lost and in thanking the members of our diplomatic service for their selfless contributions to America and the world.

“Signed, Barack Obama.”


MS. JOHNSON: As we solemnly honor Eugene Sullivan today nearly 40 years later, we also remember another member of the Foreign Service family, Sharon Clark, who also died of malaria, cerebral malaria, on December 26, 2010 while serving in Abuja, Nigeria.

It is now my honor to turn the podium over to Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg. (Applause.)

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: Thank you, Susan, and on behalf of Secretary Clinton, let me welcome you all here today. It’s a very special occasion, and I think, as you heard from the words of the President, the work that you all do and have done is so important to our future and to the future of our children and the next generations that it’s important that we take the time to stop and honor not only the single individual honored today, but all those who are working both now and in the past to serve our country.

But it is important to note that today, we do honor a USAID Foreign Service officer who ventured out in the field to serve at the leading edge of the American outreach to the world. While serving our country in a remote corner of the world, he caught a rare and deadly disease and made the ultimate sacrifice for his country. It was back in 1972 when Eugene F. Sullivan lost his life to black water fever, and almost four decades later, this moment of recognition is well deserved and long overdue. We remain deeply grateful for his service and his sacrifice.

From all that I’ve learned in hearing this remarkable story, Gene Sullivan’s life was shaped by a powerful sense of mission. During tours of duty of Seoul, Taipei, Manila, Bangkok, and Addis, Gene lived his dream of helping the poor and the powerless. That commitment extended to his private life as well. Gene gave generously to many charities and orphanages.

Gene’s friends and family describe him as a man full of intellectual curiosity with a love of travel, new cuisines, and new languages, especially languages. He spoke 13 of them, including two Chinese dialects.

They also talk about what a loving husband and father he was, and we’re honored that so many of his members of his family are here with us today. And I want to pay tribute to you for being here. Thank you so much. (Applause.)

We often talk about the need for a more expeditionary State Department and USAID to venture beyond capital cities and the diplomats and the embassies to reach people in need, and build new partnerships. And that’s exactly what Gene was doing in his career. Ethiopia’s capital, Addis, is at a high elevation and generally free of mosquito-borne illnesses like black water fever. But one – as one friend described it, Gene was a hands-on, out in the field, Indiana Jones kind of guy.

Many of what we’ve learned in all the stories and many more about a life in Foreign Service and the family are retold in Maureen’s book, The Sullivan Saga: Memories of an Overseas Childhood. And even as the world changes, it’s remarkable to see what has remained constant about the Foreign Service experience. At the end of Maureen’s book is a collection of her mother Hope’s Christmas letters to family and friends. In one letter, 1971, the last one that was written while Gene was alive, she concluded by noting that what, quote, “dedicated people the members of USAID are.” And of course, even today, we at State and USAID are still seeking men and women as courageous, as curious, and as deeply committed as Gene Sullivan.

And I would add to those dedicated people all the family members who share in the service and sacrifices that are an inescapable part of a Foreign Service career, and that’s why, as Susan said, we have this special memorial for the families as well and pay special tribute to them.

And so as we honor Gene today, we extend to Hope and to all the members of the family our gratitude for the sacrifices, for the commitment that inspires us all, even today. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

MS. JOHNSON: Deputy Secretary Steinberg and I will now unveil the name on the plaque.

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: See right here, “Gene F. Sullivan.” (Applause.) And now, if we could just observe a moment of silence.

(A moment of silence was observed.)

MS. JOHNSON: Thank you. Now the Color Guard will bring the wreath over and place it in front of the plaque.

(The wreath was laid.)

MS. JOHNSON: Thank you. Now, please stand as the United States Armed Forces Color Guard retires the colors.

(The colors were retired.)

MS. JOHNSON: This concludes the AFSA Memorial Plaque ceremony. Thank you all for honoring us with your presence today. (Applause.)