Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy

AFSA’s Award for Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy honors those who have made extraordinary contributions to diplomacy and the diplomatic profession over many years. The American Foreign Service Association established its award for Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy in 1995. By giving this high-profile award, AFSA also seeks to bring greater recognition to its other awards, including its unique annual awards for constructive dissent.

Originally, there were no criteria beyond those implied by the award’s name. First in 2009, and later in 2016, the AFSA Governing Board refined the criteria guidelines to be as follows:

  • The nominee should have at least a decade of service to diplomacy and foreign policy development, and have made an enduring, positive impact on the diplomatic profession itself, including but not limited to promoting the Foreign Service’s primary role in foreign policy within the executive and legislative branches and strengthening the institution of the Foreign Service.
  • The nominees are normally retired career diplomats, but may include other individuals in exceptional circumstances. When looking at an individual who was not a career member of the Foreign Service, one must consider the effect that the individual has had on promoting the role of the Foreign Service and championing diplomacy. 
  • The nominees are considered for their accomplishments during both active duty and in retirement. The enduring impact of their work on diplomacy, the profession, and diplomatic institutions and practices is particularly important.
  • Nominees must be able to attend the awards ceremony in person.

The presentation takes place during AFSA’s annual Awards Ceremony, typically in October at the Department of State. The Secretary of State is invited to present this award. If the Secretary is unable to attend, a distinguished individual who has worked with the recipient is asked to present the award. Colin Powell presented the award to Thomas Pickering and to George Shultz; Elliot Richardson presented the award to Frank Carlucci; Mr. Carlucci presented it to Lee Hamilton; Robert Zoellick presented it to Richard Lugar; Senator Lugar presented to award to Senator Nunn; and Lawrence Eagleburger presented the award to Joan Clark. Honorees are presented with a globe and certificate. Click here for a complete list of previous recipients.

For information on these awards, please contact AFSA's Awards and Scholarships Manager Theo Horn Green at or (202) 719-9705.


AFSA is honored to announce that Ambassador Edward Perkins will receive the association’s 2020 Award for Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy in recognition of his exemplary Foreign Service career, significant contributions to maintaining a strong career professional Foreign Service and in recognition of his role as a trailblazer in advocating for increased diversity within America’s diplomatic corps. The AFSA Governing Board voted unanimously at its March 18 meeting to award the honor to Ambassador Perkins. Past recipients of this award include George H.W. Bush, Thomas Pickering, Ruth Davis, George Shultz, Richard Lugar, Joan Clark, Ronald Neumann, Sam Nunn, Rozanne Ridgway, Nancy Powell, William Harrop and Herman ‘Hank’ Cohen.

Edward J. Perkins was born in Sterlington, Louisiana, and grew up in Portland, Oregon. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland and master’s and Doctor of Public Administration degrees from the University of Southern California. He served three years in the U.S. Army and four years in the U.S. Marine Corps. Ambassador Perkins was married to the former Lucy Cheng-mei Liu. They have two daughters, Katherine and Sarah, and four grandchildren.

In 1972 Dr. Perkins was assigned as Staff Assistant in the Office of the Director General of the Foreign Service. He was assigned as a Personnel Officer in the State Department’s Bureau of Personnel from 1972-74. Following this assignment, he was assigned to the Bureau of Far East and South Asian Affairs (1974-75), and thereafter served in the Office of Management Operations in the Department of State from 1975 to 1978. In 1978, he was assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Accra, Ghana, as counselor for Political Affairs. He was named Deputy Chief of Mission to the American Embassy in Monrovia, Liberia in 1981; he served as Director of the Department of State’s Office of West African Affairs from 1983-85. In 1985 he was appointed Ambassador to Liberia, and in 1986 as Ambassador to the Republic of South Africa where he served from 1986-89. In 1989 Ambassador Perkins was appointed as Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Personnel in the Department of State where he served from 1989-1992. In 1992 he was appointed as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, and U.S. Representative in the UN Security Council, where he served from 1992-1993, until taking up his post in Australia. On August 31, 1996, Ambassador Perkins retired with the rank of Career Minister.

During his Foreign Service career, he received the Presidential Distinguished and Meritorious Service Awards; the Department of State’s Distinguished Honor and Superior Honor Award; the Una Chapman Cox Foundation Award for Distinguished Foreign Service Work; the University of Southern California’s Distinguished Alumni Award; the Southern University’s Achievement Award; the Links, Inc. Living Legend Award, the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Award for Distinguished Diplomatic Service; the Kappa Alpha Psi C. Rodger Wilson Leadership Conference Award and the Kappa Alpha Psi Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Foreign Service, as well as 1992’s Statesman of the Year Award from George Washington University. In 1993, he was granted the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity’s highest honor, the Laurel Wreath Award for Achievement and Distinguished Diplomatic Service. He was the 1998 Honoree of the Beta Gamma Sigma Chapter of The University of Oklahoma. On September 10, 2001, he received the Director General’s Cup awarded by the Department of State. In 2006, he was honored as one of the Strong Men and Women of America by Dominion Resource Services, Inc.

Since retiring from the Foreign Service Ambassador Perkins also served on the Board of the Cranlana Programme in Melbourne, Australia; the Steering Committee for the Center for Australia/New Zealand Studies at Georgetown University; the Advisory Board of the Institute for International Public Policy; the Advisory Council to the University Office of International Programs at The Pennsylvania State University; the Advisory Board of the Thursday Luncheon Group; the Board of Trustees of The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation; the Board of Visitors of the National Defense University; the Board of Directors of the National Academy for Public Administration; and as a Life Trustee of Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon.

Regrettably, Ambassador Perkins passed away in November 2020. AFSA is honored to have been able to recognize him before his death.