Thomas Jefferson Award
AMERICAN CITIZENS ABROAD (ACA) created the Thomas Jefferson Award in 1993 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Jefferson’s birth. While serving as Ambassador to France during the 1780s, Jefferson and his American compatriots worked closely together to develop, promote and protect our rash new experiment in enlightened liberal democracy.
Jefferson, as the principal author of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, had already stated that what motivated this common endeavor was that:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."
Quite clearly, at least in his mind, there was no suggestion that living and working abroad could or should in any way diminish our equality, or our eligibility for the fruits of any of these other self-evident truths. They were universal, not territorial, and so should they still be today.
ACA instituted this award because we believe that the American community, at home and abroad, constitutes one large and ubiquitous family, and it is only by truly working together and supporting each other that we can optimally contribute to the strength, health, welfare and prosperity of our country.
In dedicating this award to deserving members of the US State Department, we are also sending a message that we, who live abroad, not only acknowledge their fine individual performances, but even more their manifest dedication to the highest ideals of our common home country. Members of the State Department, wherever they serve, play a very important role in ensuring that the ideals and promises of the Founding Fathers continue to have relevance on a daily basis to all of our lives. It is this dedication to the support of the common principles of our worldwide American family that we wish to acknowledge.
2016: Philip T. Reeker
U.S. Consul General in Milan, Amb. Philip T. Reeker, receives ACA’s 2016 Thomas Jefferson Award.
Created in 1993, the Thomas Jefferson Award commemorates the 250th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Jefferson, who, while serving as Ambassador to France, understood the vital contributions being made by Americans living abroad. The award is given to honor an employee of the State Department for services to the community of Americans living abroad.
Ambassador Reeker has been recognized by the community of Americans living in Milan and Lombardy Italy for his service in meeting the demands of the steady growth for consular services, his commitment to diplomatic engagement and commercial outreach. Ambassador Reeker has shown a genuine interest in a wide range of fields – arts, commerce, finance, history and his willingness to be a gateway between Italy and the United States has helped advance the important relations between these two countries.
Ambassador Reeker has served as United States Consul General in Milan, since September of 2014. Prior to his assignment in Italy, Ambassador Reeker served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs focused on the Balkans, Central Europe, and Holocaust Issues. He was U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia from 2008 to 2011, and Deputy State Department Spokesman/ Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (2000-2004). Previous assignments include: Minister Counselor for Public Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq (2007-2008); Deputy Chief of Mission in Budapest (2004-2007); and Director of Press Relations at the State Department (1999-2000). He was Spokesman for the Special Envoy for Kosovo, Ambassador Christopher Hill.
Ambassador Reeker, a graduate of Yale University with an MBA from the Thunderbird School of International Management in Arizona, joined the Foreign Service in 1992.
To see Ambassador Reeker, U.S. Consul General in Milan's full bio, click here.
2015: Michele Thoren Bond
ACA, Inc. announced Ambassador Michele Thoren Bond as the recipient of the 2015 Thomas Jefferson Award for outstanding service by a State Department employee to Americans abroad.
Ambassador Bond’s nomination noted her extensive work done on behalf of the American community in the Netherlands where she served as Principal Officer. During her tenure in the Netherlands, Michele worked tirelessly to create ongoing contacts with many American groups. Her natural impulse is to do her job with wisdom and ultimate professionalism while still relating to each person as an individual. She often traveled to different parts of the country to create “outposts” so that American citizens could more easily receive consular assistance.
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2012: Donald Sternoff Beyer, Jr.
"Don" Beyer, Jr., US Ambassador to Switzerland, was chosen for this award because of his extraordinarily kind and generous support of the US private sector community in Switzerland in their undertaking to carry out a series of Town Hall Meetings throughout the country. The results of these meetings have been aggregated into a summary letter and attached report, which has been sent to the President of the United States, other Cabinet Members, every Member of the House of Representatives and the Senate, and to US Ambassadors all over the world. This effort will greatly enrich the knowledge and understanding of the challenges facing US citizens who live and work abroad, and suggest the most appropriate methods for addressing and resolving these challenges in a manner that would benefit all of the citizens of the United States, both at home and abroad.
Don, the son of a US Army officer, was born in Trieste, Italy. He was a presidential scholar and a National Merit Scholar, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Williams College, with a magna cum laude in economics. During his tenure as Lieutenant Governor of Virginia he served as president of the Virginia Senate. He chaired the Virginia Economic Recovery program and led the fight to eliminate disincentives to high-tech research and development in the Virginia Tax Code. Following the 2008 election, President-elect Barack Obama asked Don to head up the transition team at the Commerce Department. President Obama nominated Don for the post of United States Ambassador to Switzerland on June 12, 2009.
2010: Michael (Mike) F. Gallagher
Michael (Mike) F. Gallagher (pictured here with ACA Country Contact Roberta Enschede) finished his Foreign Service career of nearly 40 years as Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in The Hague, serving there under three ambassadors – and as chargé d'affaires in the absence of an ambassador – until his retirement in December 2009. During these years, he won the hearts of Americans living in the Netherlands.
"He and his wife Martha opened their home generously to American organizations and were tireless in their willingness to appear, to help and support, or to lend helpful advice whenever needed," praised a leading figure in the American community in Holland. All those who nominated him remarked on his unfailing availability to his fellow citizens, whether it was to speak of the importance of early detection and diagnosis of cancer, to attend the annual Thanksgiving Day ceremony at the church once attended by the Pilgrims, to don a three-cornered hat and read from the Declaration of Independence at the July 4th celebration, or to participate in the Memorial Day service at the American World War II cemetery in Margraten. A Foreign Service colleague who worked with him during that period wrote, “I will never meet another person with the charisma, force of will, savvy, and amicability that make up so much of his larger-than-life personality. Michael Gallagher may be gone from the Netherlands now, but his large fan club there wants him to know that he is definitely not forgotten."
2009: Anne-Marie Casella & Mark C. Storella, Co-Winners
Anne-Marie Casella, Chief of American Citizen Services in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, was warmly recommended for the award by a broad cross-section of the Haitian and American community. During her tenure, she dealt with the aftermath of four tropical storms which ravaged the country in 2008 and with more than a hundred kidnappings of American citizens. Her diligence, efficiency and above all caring attention to each case has won praise from victims and their families, resident missionaries, the chief of police of Port-au-Prince, the anti-kidnapping unit of the Haitian National Police, the FBI, and the UN police. Ms. Casella modestly responded to the outpouring of praise, "I am just doing the job the State Department trained me to do and I do it the best that I can."
Mark C. Storella, Deputy Permanent Representative and Chargé d'Affaires at the US Mission in Geneva, took the bold step of reaching out to local Americans in pioneering Town Hall meetings at which representatives of the community were invited to the Mission and encouraged to discuss the broad range of concerns specific to them as overseas Americans. These concerns were noted, and then, with the agreement of those present, a summary report was sent to the State Department for circulation to other relevant departments and agencies. Although legislation approving such a concept was passed some years ago, it had not previously been incorporated into the agendas of American embassies and missions. The model meeting initiated by Mr. Storella will hopefully be duplicated at many other posts.
2008: Maura Harty & Michael Parmly, Co-Winners
Maura Harty(center in photo at right, along with ACA directors Jackie Abrams and Jackie Bugnion) retired after serving as Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs, in which post she manifested constant concern for the well-being of Americans based abroad. Maura entered the Foreign Service in 1981. Following an initial assignment to the American Embassy in Mexico City, she returned to Washington and participated in the United States' rescue mission to Grenada. She later served as a Watch Officer in the State Department's Operations Center, before being named as a Special Assistant to then-Secretary of State George P. Shultz. Maura’s overseas postings picked up again in 1988, when she was named chief of the non-immigrant visa section in Bogota, Colombia. She subsequently served as Consul at the American Embassy in Madrid and assisted in the opening of the American Embassy in Vilnius, Lithuania. In 1994, she was appointed to head the Directorate of Overseas Citizens Services, where she created the office of Children’s Issues. She was a Deputy Executive Secretary of the Department in 1995, served as Executive Assistant to Secretary of State Warren Christopher, and then became US Ambassador to theRepublic of Paraguay.
Michael E. Parmly (pictured with ACA director Jackie Bugnion) is Chief of Mission of the US Interests Section in Havana, Cuba, with the rank of Minister-Counselor, yet – as throughout his career – he remains concerned for the welfare of individual American citizens abroad. Michael began as a Peace Corps volunteer in Bucaramanga, Colombia, working in the field of youth development. He has had Foreign Service assignments in Morocco, Spain, Romania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, France, and Afghanistan, and has been Political Counselor at the US Mission to the European Union. Mr. Parmly received the State Department’s Superior Honor Award for his work in Sarajevo, where he oversaw the build-up of the post-Dayton American diplomatic presence in that country. He was also Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor in Afghanistan, and has been Professor of National Security Studies specializing in post-conflict situations at the National War College.
2006: David W. Abell & Rena Bitter, Co-Winners
David W. Abell, the US Consul General in Baghdad. is in charge of the US Embassy section that provides essential services to the private sector US community living and working in Iraq. He is on duty essentially 24 hours a day answering calls for help on a very wide variety of uniquely challenging problems and concerns. This is a hardship post in very dangerous circumstances. David volunteered for this assignment and his willingness to endure these trying conditions manifests the highest degree of patriotism and devotion to his fellow citizens. ACA salutes his courage, his dedication to his country, and his services to his compatriots living and working abroad.
After joining the Foreign Service in 1987, he has served in Mexico City; Bridgetown, Barbados; Harare, Zimbabwe; Lagos, Nigeria; and Toronto. His assignments in Washington, DC included being an instructor for new consular officers, and later heading the Anti-Fraud Training Unit. David has previously received several outstanding performance awards from the State Department.
Rena Bitter is the Consular Chief in Amman, Jordan, with a double responsibility. She not only provides a full range of assistance to American citizens living and working in Jordan, but also ensures vital backup and support to David Abell and his colleagues at the US Embassy in Iraq. She and David form a powerful team working closely together to respond to the needs of US citizens in very trying circumstances.
Ms. Bitter joined the Foreign Service in 1994, and has previously served in Mexico City; Bogota, Colombia; and London. She worked for a year directly with the British Foreign Office before becoming the Chief of the Nonimmigrant Visa Unit at the American Embassy in London. During an assignment in Washington, she served as a Special Assistant to former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Rena has also previously received awards for outstanding performance. Two of these cited her leadership of London's Nonimmigrant Visa Unit, which is the largest visa processing post in Europe. A third noted her contributions to the office of the Secretary of State. As testimony to her courage and dedication, one of her supervisors wrote a few years ago: "If my grandkids were to find themselves in trouble, I would hope it would be Rena, or someone like her, who would be available" to help them.
2005: Robert L. Fretz
Robert L. Fretz was honored for his services as the US Consul General for the Eastern Caribbean based in Barbados, with an area of responsibility extending from the British Virgin Islands in the north to St. Vincent to the south. During his tenure, he is credited with completely revamping the consulate with utmost kindness and consideration to his clients. Bob was nominated by his peers, who wrote: "Robert L. Fretz is much more than an extraordinarily gifted and dedicated administrator. He is truly a compassionate and caring human being…. Bob has unquestionably set an example of caring, creativity, determination and professionalism that is worthy of emulation by other Foreign Service employees and by anyone who truly wants to help other American citizens who live abroad while at the same time enhancing the image of our great nation." They cited in particular his response after Hurricane Ivan hit Grenada, destroying 90% of the buildings on the island, when Bob rescued stranded Americans from hotels and fielded phone calls and emails from anxious relatives, while himself surviving in primitive conditions.
2001: Stephen A. Edson & Charles Ray, Co-Winners
Stephen Edson (second from left in the photo above) was honored for the exemplary manner in which he served the US expatriate community during the enormous political and social upheavals that took place during his tenure in Indonesia. The transition to democracy in 1999 was not free of violence, and in response, Mr. Edson initiated constant and comprehensive security threat assessments to protect the lives and interests of US citizens. He worked closely with the security committee of the local American Chamber of Commerce, the Overseas Security Advisory Council, and individual citizens, and orchestrated the evacuations of residents and tourists in Ambon, when violence struck that area without warning in 1999. In October of 2000, he secured the release of an American tourist arrested and charged with espionage for having photographed a security operation. After local press accounts appeared concerning the "American spy," Mr. Edson defused a potentially explosive situation by quietly intervening, successfully negotiating the tourist's safe transfer out of the province. He traveled extensively throughout the Indonesian archipelago, responding to specific threats as well as general dangers.
Charles Ray (fourth from left in the photo above) was honored for his services on behalf of Americans living and working in Vietnam. When Charles Ray arrived in Ho Chi Minh City in May 1998, there was only a handful of staff manning a temporary office. He creatively supervised the expansion of the Consulate to a staff now numbering over 200, one of the largest US diplomatic and consular operations in the world today. For a full range of issues from local contract disputes to customs valuation issues and carefully crafted ceremonial events, Charles Ray went the extra mile to ensure the best possible business environment for individual entrepreneurs, American firms and their Vietnamese partners. His services to the private sector are particularly appreciated as an extremely accessible and flexible partner. He also was an effective and successful advocate for the drafting and negotiating of the US-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement, about which many Vietnamese had expressed some serious reservations.
1999: Nelson Strobridge "Strobe" Talbott III
Strobe Talbott, who has been Deputy Secretary of State since February, 1994, vigorously spearheaded efforts to promote the identification and resolution of problems confronting the expatriate American community.
Mr. Talbott directed all ambassadors to institute a "town meeting" forum with local members of the American community, and to report back not just on what was said, but on what was being done to address the issues and grievances voiced. "Prior to the Talbott initiative, the emphasis was always on traditional representation of the US Government to foreign governments and to the US citizens residing abroad," one Committee member noted. "The Talbott initiative has effectively converted our embassies and consulates into sounding boards for the expression of our concerns, offering Americans living abroad a much higher level of visibility among Washington policymakers. The difference is tangible."
Mr. Talbott entered government as Ambassador-at-Large and Special Adviser to the Secretary of State for the Newly Independent States after 21 years as a journalist with Time magazine, where his last position was Editor-at-Large and foreign affairs columnist. He has authored several books on US-Soviet relations, and translated and edited two volumes of Nikita Khruschev’s memoirs.
1998: Richard N. Gardner & Sarah Metzger, Co-Winners
Richard N. Gardner, former US Ambassador to Spain, was chosen for his extensive efforts to reach out to members of the American community and ensure that the US Government was responsive to their needs. He campaigned for and obtained the direct deposit of US Social Security checks to Spanish bank accounts, adapted the working hours of consulates to respond to the needs of users, and obtained funding for an additional 20 Fulbright scholarships. His creation of an Embassy cinema introduced an excellent forum for interaction among the Spanish and American communities. Previously Ambassador to Italy and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, Mr. Gardner has returned to his post of Professor of Law at Columbia University, where he held the Chair in Law and International Organizations.
Sarah Metzger received seven nominations were received for the head of the Adoption Unit in Guangzhou, China. She has made a lasting impact on the American community living in and visiting China. She supervised a staff of four and processed more than 3,500 visas annually. Despite the fact that her office has the largest orphan visa caseload of any American consulate worldwide, Ms. Metzger personally becomes involved with many adopting couples. As one of her nominators for the award wrote, she "serves as their guide, their mentor, their port in the storm which can be a very traumatic time for these citizens." She joined the Foreign Service in 1991 and has previously served as a consular officer in Manila and in Montreal.
1997: Michael Polt & David Lyon, Co-Winners
Michael Polt As the Deputy Chief of Mission of the American Embassy in Bern, Michael Polt devoted untiring effort towards finding an innovative solution which allowed Geneva-area citizens to maintain a consular presence. A unique "hybrid" public-private association, the America Center of Geneva, was created, with the consular agent and Dept. of Commerce representative sharing office space with volunteers from the local community. Mike is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service of the US with twenty years of experience in the Department of State and diplomatic posts in both Europe and Latin America. In accepting the Award certificate, Mike, a native of Austria, said that, as an immigrant himself, he felt particularly honored to receive an award for service to his fellow Americans.
David Lyon was chosen for his efforts in instituting a corporate visa program with the American Chamber of Commerce in Beijing, which streamlined the administration of visas for US firms investing in this burgeoning market. His initiative was met with universal appreciation. Since 1988, he has been a career member of the Senior Foreign Service and holds the title of Minister-Counselor. His Foreign Service career has sent him to Nigeria, Brazil, Ghana, the Philippines and Thailand, as well as assignments in Washington. David has received numerous awards for performance throughout his career.
1996: Ingrid Barzel, David Buentello & Barbara Cucinella, Co-Winners
Ingrid Barzel (pictured here with Secretary of State Warren Christopher and other State Department staffers) is the Consular Specialist at the Tel Aviv Embassy. Her nomination was received shortly after the previous year's bombing campaign in Israel that claimed a number of American victims. Ms. Barzel repeatedly furnished an almost ubiquitous response to these crises, working tirelessly to be where the victims needed assistance and information while giving effective and compassionate support to the survivors and next-of-kin. A Committee member summarized: "Her physical, mental and emotional resources seemed to increase in direct proportion to the gravity of the situation. No training course can teach these qualities; they either form part of the individual’s character, or they don’t."
David Buentell (pictured here with some of his staff) as chief of the American Citizens Services branch of the consular section of the US Embassy in Manila, David demonstrated deep personal commitment in assisting Americans facing illness, legal or financial problems, or threats to their safety. He handled negotiations with local officials trying to free four American citizens kidnapped by extremists in the Mindanao region, and worked toward a peaceful resolution of the crisis. As one of his nominations stated, David "always managed to turn adversity into an asset to reflect a favorable image upon our country".
Barbara Cucinella, an American residing in Palermo, Italy, devised and executed an effective, proactive response to plans to close the Palermo consulate, organizing an enormous letter-writing campaign by Americans based in Sicily, petitions which were signed by thousands, and a sit-in on the steps of the Consulate General, with posters declaring "Yankee, Don't Go Home." As a result of popular protests, a consular agent was appointed for Sicily after the closing of the consulate – Barbara Cucinella.
1995: Helen Bridget Burkart & Gerald Whitman, Co-Winners
In this picture: L to R Jackie Abrams (ACA), Bridget Burkart (award co-winner), Rep. Bill Alexander and Gerald Whitman (award co-winner)
Helen Bridget Burkart was nominated by nine organizations in Saudi Arabia for efforts to strengthen contacts among 15,000 Americans in the Eastern Province of that country. The Commander of the local American Legion wrote, "The consensus of numerous American groups is that they have never seen such a supportive relationship exist between representatives of the State Department and US citizen workers, businessmen and their families. We believe that this condition is largely the result of the superb dedication and enthusiasm of this professional public servant." An accomplished public speaker, she has addressed over 2000 persons: the American Society for Industrial Security, the American Business Association, the Boy Scouts of America and dozens of women’s groups.
Gerald Whitman: A Foreign Service officer since 1973, Gerry Whitman was selected for his initiative in forming the Umbrella Group of US Organizations in Montevideo, Uruguay. This group has improved communications with US citizens residing in Uruguay and facilitated coordination among US affiliated organizations based in Montevideo. The head of the local US-Uruguay trade association wrote, "This step is the biggest in the US-Uruguayan relations taken by the US Embassy in the last fifty years." He successfully got US firms to donate money so that a local school could establish a computer laboratory, and his Umbrella Group got the Peace Corps involved in a cleanup project in connection with activities in Uruguay, marking Earth Day's 25th Anniversary.
1994: Douglas Rohn
Douglas Rohn (second from left in the picture above), Joint Administrative Officer of the US Embassy in Yaounde, Cameroon, was chosen to receive the first Thomas Jefferson Award because of his willingness to help US citizens residing there. He took his present post in 1991 and has been involved with the Boy Scouts, the American Club Board of Directors, the School Board and the Year 2000 Strategic Planning Committee of the American School in Yaounde. He even accompanied the school team of Mt. Cameroon climbers on an ascent of 14,000 feet. The head of the American school wrote, "I have lived overseas for over twenty years in five different posts, and I have never met any State Department employee who deserved this honor more than Mr. Rohn." Mr. Rohn has been in the Foreign Service for 15 years, and has been stationed in Santo Domingo, Paraguay, Grenada and Washington.