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 may be retired career diplomats but could 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 Programs and Member Engagement department. They are available at


AFSA is honored to announce that Ambassador John F. Tefft will receive the association’s 2023 Award for Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy in recognition of his outstanding Foreign Service career, his lifelong commitment to public service, and his exemplary contributions to U.S. foreign policy. The AFSA Governing Board voted unanimously at its April meeting to award the honor to Ambassador Tefft. Past recipients of this award include: Anne W. Patterson, John Negroponte, Edward Perkins, 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.

Ambassador Tefft joined the Foreign Service in 1972 and was a career Foreign Service Officer for more than 45 years. He was Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow from 1996 to 1999 and was Chargé d’Affaires from November 1996 to September 1997. His other Foreign Service assignments include Jerusalem, Budapest, and Rome.

In 2000, President Clinton called him to serve as the United States Ambassador to Lithuania (2000-2003), where he worked successfully to have Lithuania admitted to NATO. Following his stint in Lithuania, Tefft was the International Affairs Advisor at the National War College in Washington, D.C from 2003 to 2004. He was then named Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs responsible for U.S. relations with Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova.

In 2005 he returned overseas when he was called to be Ambassador to Georgia (2005-2009), leading the Embassy during the 2008 Russo-Georgian war and the US efforts to assist Georgia’s recovery from the war. Amb. Tefft was then moved in 2009 to serve as Ambassador to Ukraine (2009-2013).

Amb. Tefft originally retired from the Foreign Service in September 2013 and served as Executive Director of the RAND Corporation’s U.S.-Russia Business Leaders Forum from October 2013 to August 2014 until his recall to duty and confirmation as U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation. He completed his service as the United States Ambassador to the Russian Federation (2014-2017) where he navigated the strained relationship between the U.S. and Russia following the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea.

Throughout his career, Ambassador Tefft has been the recipient of several distinguished awards. Among the awards he has received are the Secretary of State’s Distinguished Service Award in 2017, the State Department’s Distinguished Honor Award in 1992, the Deputy Chief of Mission of the Year Award for his service in Moscow in 1999 and the Diplomacy for Human Rights Award in 2013. He received Presidential Meritorious Service Awards in 2001 and 2005.

Amb. Tefft holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and a Master’s Degree from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. He is married to Mariella Cellitti Tefft, a biostatistician and nurse who served with him at each of his Foreign Service assignments and contributed greatly to their joint effort to represent the United States. They have two daughters, Christine and Cathleen, who both live and work in the Washington, D.C. area, and two granddaughters.

AFSA hopes to honor Ambassador and Mrs.Tefft at our annual October Award Ceremony. During the AFSA awards ceremony, we will also present our awards for constructive dissent and exemplary performance.