Posted by Doreen Higgins on Sep 30, 2019
We are privileged to have enjoyed a visit and talk by Katherine (Kate) Canavan at our recent breakfast meeting.  Ms. Canavan entered the Foreign Service in 1976 and retired after her last posting in 2011.
rior to her retirement she was the Civilian Deputy and Foreign Policy Advisor to the Commander of the United States European Command in Stuttgart, Germany. Before that she was the US Ambassador to Botswana (2005-2008), Director of the Foreign Service Institute for Secretary Colin Powell (2001-2005) and Ambassador to the Kingdom of Lesotho (1998-2001). Ms. Canavan has a BA degree in History from the University of California at Santa Cruz and attended the National War College, class of 1993. Since retiring Ms. Canavan has supported a number of military exercises and courses as a subject matter expert, and serves on the boards of organizations which promote excellence in Diplomacy and the Foreign Service.

Ms. Canavan told us that a career in the Foreign Service begins with a lengthy screening process which leads to confirmation by the Senate; she compared the ranking, the progression in rank, and the hierarchy of the Foreign Service to the military. In this service, the rank of Ambassador is the most senior, and the Ambassador reports to the President through the Secretary of State. An Ambassador is responsible for all US personnel in his or her country (except the military), including many US government agencies, and has to coordinate all their policies, activities and relationships – covering a vast range of policies and intentions. The job of an Ambassador is a difficult one, and “The buck stops here,” she said.

There were, in days gone by, very few women Ambassadors; those that were, were not allowed to marry. The situation changed in 1972 – Ms. Canavan told the story of a discrimination suit – and she was one of the very first to attain the rank of Ambassador. Rising through the ranks was not easy, jobs were changed every few years, the process was far from transparent, and if one was a part of it, a mentor was imperative. Posting was a mix of “nice” and “not so nice” places. Ms. Canavan told us that today the Foreign Service is still substantially a man’s universe; there are 37 women out of a total of 127 in the Service, or about one in three. We thanked Ms. Canavan for a most interesting glimpse into a world of which most of us knew very little.
Below is a photo of Toni Marwitz and Katherine Canavan