Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s Interview with Mark Koehn and Susan Siman of WISC

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
Madison, Wisconsin
October 7, 2022


QUESTION 1: Linda Thomas-Greenfield, she is the US Ambassador to the United Nations, and she joins us live from campus. Madam Ambassador, welcome back to Madison.

QUESTION 2: Great to see you.

AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you. I’m delighted to be here.

QUESTION 1: How did your time at UW Madison prepare for this legendary career that you’ve had?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: That’s a great question. I’m not sure that I knew that I was preparing for this career or this particular job. But what I got from this university were values of service. I got to learn about the world. I got more engaged in world issues. So I think as I look back, that I was being prepared for this, but none of us can guess where we’re going to be 30 years after we graduate. So here I am.

QUESTION 2: You came here for graduate school. How did a girl from Louisiana make it all the way to Wisconsin? Did you always intend to be a diplomat?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: No, I didn’t. I didn’t even know that that was a possibility growing up in Louisiana. So I came here for a one year master’s degree program. And had expected that I would get my master’s degree and return to Louisiana, and eventually go to law school. But this campus is enticing. I got wrapped up into this campus life, into learning about other parts of the world. And once I was here, I couldn’t see myself going back to Louisiana, and so one thing led to another. I ended up going to Africa. I then got interested in the Foreign Service, took the Foreign Service exam, and here I am.

QUESTION 1: And coming out of retirement, to head the huge – this delegation to the United Nations. What went through your mind when President Biden nominated you?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I still feel a sense of shock. When the President approached me about this job, I hadn’t realized that it was even a possibility. As you noted, I’d retired and I was working on the transition team to help the administration set up and start, so when this opportunity was put in front of me, I was in shock. And I have to admit, I’m still in shock. [Laughter.] But it’s been a year and a half, and it’s it’s been an amazing job, it’s been a challenging job. As you know, we’re dealing with issues that are life changing. We’re dealing with peace and security every single day. But I think that I was prepared to do this, and I am – I think I’m rising to the challenge.

QUESTION 1: You’re engaged in something called gumbo diplomacy. What is that?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, I am a cook. I’m a cook before I’m a diplomat. And I love to cook. And I started as I traveled overseas to cook Louisiana food for my friends and my contacts, and they all enjoyed it. And I found that it was a way to help people to relax, to soften sometimes difficult conversations where you’re talking about food, and the fact that I prepared the food myself, that it was kind of a cultural thing for me being from Louisiana. And if you’ve had gumbo, you know that it is extraordinary. I think mine’s the best. [Laughter.] Most people would agree. And so it became part of my ethos of diplomacy. And that’s gumbo diplomacy, and I heard someone do an article saying “she does gumbo diplomacy and not gunboat diplomacy.” I kind of like that.

QUESTION 1: Well, congratulations, and congratulations on this honor as well as part of the Alumni Park. Welcome back to Madison.

QUESTION 2: Welcome back to Madison, have a wonderful weekend, Linda. It’s been great to see you, great to talk to you.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you. I’m truly, truly honored. Thank you.