Stories from Our Community

Being A Visible Sign

Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley believes in the importance of visibility – visibility of the United States in communities around the world, visibility of a woman in a leadership position, visibility of an African-American as a representative of all the American people.

Her interest in international affairs started in high school, where she studied Hebrew because of the large Jewish community she saw around her in Cleveland, OH. She went on to earn a B.A. at The George Washington University and an M.A. in International Relations at the School for Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

In 1978-79, she traveled to Israel as part of an academic exchange. She would return to the region after graduating from college as a Peace Corps volunteer in Oman, where she could be seen going from village to village spreading health education.

When she joined the US Foreign Service in 1985, she was given a choice between London and Baghdad. She chose Baghdad, serving as Consul at the height of the Iran-Iraq War. Subsequently, she was posted to Jakarta, Indonesia and then to Cairo, Egypt. From 1991 to 1993, she served as Special Assistant for Middle Eastern and African Affairs to Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, making the information she had gained on the ground known in policy discussions.

After time in Tunis and Tel Aviv, as well as leadership positions at the National Security Council and the White House, she returned to the Middle East in 2002 – this time as Consul General in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

As the first woman to lead a US diplomatic mission in Saudi Arabia, she says she had the status of “honorary male.” At the same time, she had access – denied to her male colleagues – to meet with women throughout the kingdom. Their perspectives gave her even greater insights into the region and the US-Saudi relationship. Plus, she could be present to these women in a distinct way. “I [tried] to give my experience ...and ask them not to give in to the restrictions of their cultural environment."

While in Jeddah, she survived an al-Qaeda terrorist attack on the consulate and was cited "for acts of courage” during the attack.

In 2011, President Obama asked her to serve as US Ambassador to Malta, the first Foreign Service officer assigned as ambassador since 1985 and one of only two black women serving as US Ambassadors in Europe at the time.

While in Malta, she visited refugee centers on the island. Based on her experiences, she could contribute an important perspective to the Maltese-US response to the refugee crisis. She also worked to advance US priorities on T-TIP, educational exchanges, environment protection, regional maritime security cooperation, and counterterrorism.

Today, Ambassador Abercrombie-Winstanley serves on the US Department of State Board of Examiners and as a Foreign Policy Advisor for US Cyber Command.