by Anne Barbaro
Of the many public diplomacy awards given by institutions and associations, only one is dedicated exclusively to honoring locally employed cultural affairs staff. This is the Lois Roth Endowment’s annual Gill Jacot-Guillarmod Award1, launched in 2013 to highlight achievements by local staff members working in cultural programs and exchanges at U.S. embassies and consulates.
The award helps demonstrate the value of the work of these individuals and their unique perspective on the U.S. diplomatic mission. Recipients speak of a tremendous sense of pride that their work is recognized not just in the embassy, but at the department level. Others recount that the award gave them increased confidence in their leadership skills and helped them expand their mentoring role with both FSO and local colleagues. Several also expressed that this award, in some small way, compensates for the restricted scope of promotion and career progression available to locally employed staff. And many commented on the pride and joy they felt in reading the flood of congratulatory messages they received from former FSOs and colleagues, when their awards were announced in a system-wide cable from the State Department
“After my nearly 40-year public diplomacy work, I feel grateful, on a daily basis, for being able to initiate, and strengthen relationships between our Israeli contacts and partners and the Embassy and together do amazing, empowering and meaningful programs to advance our Mission goals.” – Felicity Aziz, Deputy Director of the American Center, Jerusalem
The awards are one part of the work of the Lois Roth Endowment, which commemorates Foreign Service Officer Lois Wersba Roth, who died from cancer in 1986. At the time, she was head of the Arts America Program at the United States Information Agency (USIS), which was merged into the Department of State in 1999. Lois’ remarkable contributions to educational and cultural diplomacy, her commitment to equality in the Foreign Service and her passion for mentoring fellow diplomats inspired friends and colleagues, led by her husband, cultural diplomat Richard T. Arndt, to create an endowment to honor her life and work. Although the Lois Roth Endowment has evolved over the last 35 years, Arndt’s original concept—to focus on three areas Roth had excelled in: Fulbright exchanges, literary translation and cultural diplomacy—continues to shape its programs to this day.
For me winning the award was global recognition of 25+ years of work in advancing and promoting Australian student mobility to the U.S. – Helen Reidy Gill, Cultural Affairs Specialist at the U.S. Consulate Sydney
Since 2011, the Roth Endowment Awards for Excellence in Cultural Diplomacy have been given in partnership with, and at the Annual Awards Ceremony of the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The first of these, the Lois Roth Award, honors a Foreign Service Officer specializing in cultural diplomacy; it was launched in 1990, in concert with USIA’s Women’s Action Organization. Seventeen years later the Ilchman-Richardson Award was created to recognize the contributions of ECA civil service staff.
As these awards gained in recognition, it became clear that a crucial sector of cultural diplomacy professionals was missing from the roster. Experienced field officers know that the success of diplomatic programs overseas depends heavily on the advice and support of locally employed staff (previously called Foreign Service national employees). A generation of diplomats who had worked with an exemplary staff member in South Africa during and after apartheid decided this oversight must be remedied.
I had a unique opportunity to witness, and take an active part in restoring the U.S – Czech Relations from the very beginning after the Velvet Revolution in 1989. [O]ur work had a clear common purpose and brought positive results and a great deal of satisfaction as we saw democracy being restored in Central and Eastern Europe. – Markéta Kolářová Cultural Affairs Specialist, Prague, Czech Republic,
Gillian (Gill) Jacot-Guillarmod personified a deep personal commitment to cultural exchange and set the gold standard for professionalism in her field. Spending her first five years as one of two USIS staff in Cape Town and then another thirty years as Senior Cultural Assistant at the embassy in Pretoria until her death in 2010, she worked with great political sensitivity and personal courage to program hundreds of Fulbright and other exchange grantees and to guide her country through its dark times.
More than any other Roth Endowment award, this recognition was pushed into existence by former FSOs. In 2013, thanks to the donations and commitment of Bob Gosende, Jodie Lewinshon, Larry Schwartz, Dan Whitman, Tom Hull, Bob Heath and Gill’s husband Jacot Guillarmod, among others, the Gill Jacot-Guillarmod Award was presented for the first time. (For more about Gill, see Dan Whitman’s interview with her in his book Outsmarting Apartheid.)2
Over the years, the number of deserving individuals nominated for the “Gill Award” increased steadily, attesting to the important need to recognize these crucial colleagues. In 2020, with another slate of outstanding nominees, the Roth Endowment created a new career achievement award in Gill’s name to recognize outstanding local staff nearing the end of their careers, while at the same time honing the original Gill Award to inspire and encourage nominees at the mid-career level. In its inaugural year, four Career Achievement awardees were selected in addition to the winner of the Gill Award.
Lois Roth would have been proud that the Endowment created in her memory has closed the circle and now honors all the important contributors to US cultural and educational diplomacy: FSOs, civil servants and, perhaps most importantly, locally employed staff—the backbone of every embassy and every program.
Anne Barbaro retired in 2007 after 25 years with the U.S. Information Agency and the Department of State. She currently serves on the boards of the Lois Roth Endowment and the Public Diplomacy Council and works part time as a pre-publication reviewer at the Department of State.
- To see a list of all Gill Jacot-Guillarmod Awardees and learn more about the full range of the Endowment’s programs in support of promoting and encouraging dialogue across national, linguistic, disciplinary and cultural boundaries, please visit www.RothEndowment.org.
- Former Foreign Service Officer Dan Whitman interviewed Gill about her career for his book Outsmarting Apartheid (SUNY Press, 2014). https://rothendowment.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Whitman-intvw-GJG-Sky-edits-for-website1.pdf