State Department

Secretaries of State Still Living


Do you know how many Secretaries of State are still living? It may come as a surprise to you. It did for me.

My curiosity to determine how many remain arose, as most things do, by accident. I was watching a news reel when a story of the president came on and his meeting with a former Secretary of State, one who, I will be honest, I thought was no longer with us.

This of course led to the question, “well, who else is still around?”

Below, I have listed who the ten are. However, just stating their names is no fun. So to make it more interesting, along with position information (e.g., president served, years served, etc.) I have also included the following two items.

The first is a link to their memoir. As the leader of the Department of State and the top representative to foreign countries, Secretaries can hold immense weight in the direction our country takes in its “intercourse with nations”*. Especially if they have the ear of the president. The memoir is an opportunity for an inside look into how the Secretary views their role, the influence they believe they have, the direction they believe the country should take or should have, and their perceptions on the events that transpire in the world. They also become important historical records.

The memoirs are listed here for these above reasons. If there is a specific Secretary or time period that you are interested in learning more about, I do recommend reading their book. Some have written multiple, but I have only listed the memoirs that directly relate to their time as Secretary of State. Though I do suggest checking them out, do so with the proper lens – these are memoirs.

*As an aside, when my family was stationed in Kenya we had access to the American Forces Network (AFN), a television broadcasting service provided to military personnel that aired television shows and the news from the U.S. Instead of airing commercials, this broadcasting time was used for, among other things, U.S. propaganda. One of the stories they would constantly promote was that of Stephen Decatur, and his famous quote “Our country! In her intercourse with foreign nations, may she always be in the right; but our country, right or wrong”. I’ve always found this quote, it’s phrasing, language, meaning, use on AFN, and remark, an interesting one, and it thus has stuck with me.

The second item is their biography as published by the U.S. Department of State’s Office of the Historian. Along with a brief introduction, I also included the section written on the Secretary’s influence on U.S. diplomacy. You will notice that the Office has not written a “influence on U.S. diplomacy” section for the most recent Secretaries.

As time moves forward, I will update the information accordingly. I hope you find the details below as interesting as I do, and I look forward to your comments.


Henry A. (Heinz Alfred) Kissinger

Number: 56
Years: 1973-1977
Presidents: Richard Nixon & Gerald Ford
Party: Republican
Book: White House Years
Henry Alfred Kissinger was appointed Secretary of State on September 21 by President Richard M. Nixon and served in the position from September 23, 1973 to January 20, 1977. With his appointment, he became the first person ever to serve as both Secretary of State and National Security Adviser, a position he had held since President Nixon was sworn into office on January 20, 1969. However, on November 3, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford removed him from his National Security Adviser position while keeping him as Secretary of State.

Influence on American Diplomacy
Kissinger entered the State Department just two weeks before Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on Israel. The October War of 1973 played a major role in shaping Kissinger’s tenure as Secretary. First, he worked to ensure Israel received an airlift of U.S. military supplies. This airlift helped Israel turn the war in Israel’s favor, and it also led members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to initiate an oil embargo against the United States. After the implementation of a United Nation’s sponsored ceasefire, Kissinger began a series of “shuttle diplomacy” missions, in which he traveled between various Middle East capitals to reach disengagement agreements between the enemy combatants. These efforts produced an agreement in January 1974 between Egypt and Israel and in May 1974 between Syria and Israel. Additionally, Kissinger’s efforts contributed to OPEC’s decision to lift the embargo.

On August 9, 1974, the Watergate scandal compelled President Nixon to resign, but Kissinger stayed on in his dual roles under President Gerald Ford. Kissinger helped Ford acclimate to the international scene and both men worked to continue policies implemented by Nixon and Kissinger previously, including détente with the Soviet Union, establishing relations with the People’s Republic of China, and negotiations in the Middle East.

Kissinger also played a major role in the negotiations leading to the August 1975 Helsinki Accord, an agreement signed by 35 countries and addressing many issues that promised to improve relations between East and West. In September 1975, Kissinger helped conclude a second disengagement agreement between Egypt and Israel that moved both countries closer to a peace agreement.

Kissinger’s tenure as Secretary comprised many controversial issues, including his role in influencing U.S. policies towards countries such as Chile and Angola. Additionally, he engaged in new international issues such as law of the sea, which became more prominent for U.S. foreign policy in the decades ahead.

George Pratt Shultz

Number: 60
Years: 1982-1989
President: Ronald Reagan
Party: Republican
Book: Turmoil and Triumph: My Years As Secretary of State
George Shultz was named as Secretary of State by President Ronald Reagan on June 25, 1982. Following confirmation by the Senate, he assumed the office of Secretary on July 16, and he remained in that position until January 20, 1989.

Influence on American Diplomacy
As Secretary of State, Shultz played a crucial role in guiding U.S. diplomacy during his lengthy six and a half year tenure in office. Upon his confirmation, he inherited a number of foreign policy challenges, including war in Lebanon, delicate negotiations with the People’s Republic of China and the Government on Taiwan, and a ratcheting up of Cold War tensions with the Soviet Union.

Over the next several years, Shultz focused U.S. diplomatic efforts on resolving the conflict in the Middle East, defusing trade disputes with Japan, managing increasingly tense relationships with several Latin American nations, and crafting U.S. responses to the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev and the new Soviet policies of perestroika and opening to the West.

In part due to his collegial relationships with President Reagan and other members of the Administration, Shultz was able to exert considerable influence over U.S. foreign policy in regards to these issues. Although he was unable to forge a lasting resolution to the Middle East conflict, he negotiated an agreement between Israel and Lebanon and convinced Israel to begin withdrawing its troops in January 1985, in spite of Lebanon’s contravention of the settlement.

He completed the discussions between the United States and China, begun under Secretary of State Alexander Haig, which led to the joint communiqué of August 1982 that has provided stability for U.S.-Chinese relations ever since.

Shultz had not been able to halt the arms-for-hostages deals with Iran that provided funds for the Contras in Nicaragua, which he had opposed, but by 1988 he had helped to broker agreements that eased the disputes of Nicaragua’s civil war.

He had other successes in Latin America, but his crowning achievements came in regards to U.S.-Soviet relations. Through positive responses to the overtures of Gorbachev and his Foreign Minister, Eduard Shevardnadze, and through his own initiatives, Shultz helped to draft and sign landmark arms control treaties and other agreements that helped to diminish U.S.-Soviet antagonism.

As a result, under Shultz’s leadership, U.S. diplomacy helped to pave the way for the ending of the Cold War during 1989.

James Addison Baker III

Number: 61
Years: 1989-1992
President: George H. W. Bush
Party: Republican
Book: The Politics of Diplomacy
James A. Baker was appointed Secretary of State on January 22, 1989, and served until August 23, 1992. Baker brought almost two decades of experience in politics, both behind the scenes and in key administration positions with him to the State Department. As Secretary of State, Baker successfully oversaw United States foreign policy during the end of the Cold War, as well as during the First Persian Gulf War.

Influence on American Diplomacy
Baker served as Secretary of State during a very interesting and important time period in U.S. foreign relations. He was influential in overseeing American foreign policy during the tumultuous and touchy times following communism’s downfall in Eastern Europe and the break-up of the former Soviet Union.

As the head of the State Department, Baker was also the driving force behind creating a coalition of nations to repel Saddam Hussein and Iraq from Kuwait during the First Persian Gulf War.

Madeleine Korbel Albright

Number: 64
Years: 1997-2001
President: Bill Clinton
Party: Democrat
Book: Madam Secretary: A Memoir
Madeleine Korbel Albright was nominated to be the first woman Secretary of State by President William Jefferson Clinton on December 5, 1996, confirmed by the U.S. Senate on January 22, 1997, and sworn in the next day. She served in the position for four years and ended her service on January 20, 2001.

Influence on American Diplomacy
As Secretary of State, Albright promoted the expansion of NATO eastward into the former Soviet bloc nations and the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons from the former Soviet republics to rogue nations, successfully pressed for military intervention under NATO auspices during the humanitarian crisis in Kosovo in 1999, supported the expansion of free-market democratization and the creation of civil societies in the developing world, favored the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol on Global Climate Change, and furthered the normalization of relations with Vietnam.

Colin Luther Powell

Number: 65
Years: 2001-2005
President: George W. Bush
Party: Republican
Book: It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership
Colin L. Powell was appointed Secretary of State by George W. Bush on January 20, 2001, after being unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate. He served for four years, leaving the position on January 26, 2005. He was the first African-American to serve as Secretary of State.

Influence on U.S. Diplomacy
At the beginning of his term, Powell placed an emphasis on reaffirming diplomatic alliances throughout the world, supporting a national missile defense system, working towards peace in the Middle East, and prioritizing sanctions instead of force in potential hot spots such as Iraq. He also focused on reinvigorating U.S. diplomacy through reforms in the Department of State’s organizational culture and an infusion of resources for personnel, information technology, security, and facilities.

Powell’s term, however, was soon dominated by the challenges the Bush Administration faced after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Powell was one of the foremost supporters of taking swift military action against al-Qaeda and demanded immediate cooperation from Afghanistan and Pakistan in the U.S. search for those who were complicit in the attacks.

When the Administration’s attention shifted to Iraq and the possibility that Saddam Hussein was manufacturing weapons of mass destruction (WMD), Powell pressed to have UN inspectors investigate. In February 2003, Powell presented intelligence to the UN that supported the claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and could produce more. Subsequently, the Administration moved quickly toward preemptive military action against Iraq, despite Powell’s advice that war should not begin until a large coalition of allies and a long-term occupation plan were in place. In 2004, some of the intelligence that Powell had brought before the UN in 2003 was found to be erroneous.

Although Afghanistan and Iraq demanded a great deal of Powell’s attention during his tenure, he pursued other important U.S. foreign policy initiatives and grappled with various crises that arose between 2001 and 2005. After initially difficult Administration interactions with Russia and China, Powell worked to improve both bilateral relationships. Prominent among these efforts were management of U.S. withdrawal from the U.S.-Russian Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty and the signing of the Moscow Treaty on Strategic Offensive Reductions in May 2002.

In the area of foreign aid, Powell pushed the Administration to increase its commitment to the international fight against AIDS, and oversaw a doubling of development assistance funding. He also pressed for international cooperation to halt the nuclear weapons programs of North Korea and Iran, and the Administration achieved an important nonproliferation success when Libya agreed to give up its weapons programs in 2003.

Powell confronted a variety of international crises as well, including a near war between nuclear powers India and Pakistan in 2001-2002, domestic turmoil in Liberia (2003) and Haiti (2004), and the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. His continued belief that Middle East stability required a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict led him to advocate the 2002 “Road Map” that aimed at creating an independent Palestinian state at peace with Israel. Although President Bush endorsed the plan, Powell was not able to persuade the Administration to make a strong commitment to its implementation.

Condoleezza Rice

Number: 66
Years: 2005-2009
President: George W. Bush
Party: Republican
Book: No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington
Condoleezza Rice was nominated for Secretary of State by George W. Bush on November 14, 2004, and assumed office on January 26, 2005. She served for four years, leaving the position on January 20, 2009. She was the first African-American woman to serve as Secretary of State.

Influence on U.S. Diplomacy
As Secretary of State, Rice supported the expansion of democratic governments, and championed the idea of “Transformational Diplomacy,” which sought to redistribute U.S. diplomats to areas of severe social and political trouble, address such issues as disease, drug smuggling and human trafficking, and reemphasize aid through the creation of the position of Director of Foreign Assistance.

Rice helped successfully negotiate several agreements in the Middle East, including Israeli withdrawal from and the opening of the Gaza border crossings in 2005 and the August 14, 2006 ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah forces in Lebanon. Rice organized the Annapolis Conference of November 27, 2007, which focused on finding a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem.

Rice also worked actively to improve human rights issues in Iran and supported the passage of a United Nations Security Council Resolution for sanctions against the country unless its uranium enrichment program was curtailed.

Another major concern for Rice was North Korea’s nuclear program, and its subsequent testing of a nuclear weapon. Rice was firmly against holding bilateral talks with North Korea, although she welcomed their participation in the Six Party Talks between China, Japan, Russia, North Korea, South Korea, and the United States.

In October 2008, one of Rice’s most successful negotiations came to fruition, with the signing of the U.S.-India Agreement for Cooperation Concerning Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy (123 Agreement), which would allow civil nuclear trade between the two countries.

Hillary Rodham Clinton

Number: 67
Years: 2009-2013
President: Barack Obama
Party: Democrat
Book: Hard Choices: A Memoir
On January 21, 2009, Hillary Rodham Clinton was sworn in as the 67th Secretary of State of the United States. Secretary Clinton joined the State Department after nearly four decades in public service as an advocate, attorney, First Lady, and Senator.

Influence on U.S. Diplomacy
To be determined…

John Forbes Kerry

Number: 68
Years: 2013-2017
President: Barack Obama
Party: Democrat
Book: Every Day is Extra

On February 1, 2013, John Kerry was sworn in as the 68th Secretary of State of the United States. Secretary Kerry joined the State Department after 28 years as a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts.

Influence on U.S. Diplomacy
To be determined…

Rex Wayne Tillerson

Number: 69
Years: 2017-2018
President: Donald Trump
Party: Republican
Book: N/A

On February 1, 2017, Rex Tillerson was sworn in as the 69th Secretary of State of the United States. Secretary Tillerson joined the State Department after serving over four decades with Exxon. His last role in the company being chairman and CEO. Tillerson served as Secretary of State until March 2018.

Influence on U.S. Diplomacy
To be determined…


Michael R. Pompeo

Number: 70
Years: 2018-
President: Donald Trump
Party: Republican
Book: N/A

In April 2018, Mike Pompeo was sworn in as the 70th Secretary of State of the United States. Secretary Pompeo joined the State Department after serving four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and then a brief term as the Director of the CIA.

Influence on U.S. Diplomacy
Current Secretary of State…

This post was originally published on November 22, 2017. It was updated on December 16, 2018. 

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