public diplomacy

Tribute to a Wonderful Public Diplomat: Ambassador Sam Lewis

“Hello Schmuel,” I used to say to Sam Lewis, which made him laugh. The former U.S. Ambassador to Israel (1977) was not Jewish, but he remained a lifelong friend of Israel and of Jews and a friend of Palestinians—the ultimate public diplomat. He was a peacemaker—a man who bridged cultures, religions, histories and believed deeply in the power of negotiations to end stalemates and deadlocks. He devoted his life to the Middle East and resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and he understood the power of people to move policies.

Moshe Dayan, former Foreign Minister of Israel, greets U.S. Ambassador Samuel Lewis at the New Year (Rosh Hashana) reception of the President of Israel for the Diplomatic Corps, September 9, 1977. Credit:

Moshe Dayan (right), former Foreign Minister of Israel, greets U.S. Ambassador Samuel Lewis (left) at the New Year (Rosh Hashana) reception of the President of Israel for the Diplomatic Corps, September 9, 1977. Credit:

Sam Lewis died today at the age of 84. He was born October 1, 1930, in Houston, Tex. He received an A.B. degree from Yale University in 1952 and an M.A. from Johns Hopkins University in 1954. He joined the Foreign Service in 1954 and served as consular officer at Naples. From 1955 to 1959, he was a political officer and acting principal officer in Florence. Sam went on to great heights—Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations, head of State Department Planning, and then President of the United States Institute of Peace where he remains a revered figure.

What I will miss about Sam Lewis is not just his gift of diplomacy and his ability to reach out to publics across divides. I will miss his smile, his laugh, his wit, and his wisdom. To me, Sam Lewis remains “Schmuel,” — a Mensch and a mentor—and will be sorely missed. My heartfelt sympathies to his wife, Sally, and his family which includes many nations and people.


About Tara Sonenshine

Tara Sonenshine is a distinguished fellow at The George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs. Previously, she served as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, as well as Executive Vice President of the U.S. Institute for Peace.


2 thoughts on “Tribute to a Wonderful Public Diplomat: Ambassador Sam Lewis

  1. I will only add to Gene’s comments wise and valuable remarks by saying that Sam met everyone at “Eye Level” without airs and had that rare ability to make everyone feel that they were the most important person in the world whilst talking to him.
    He was my Diving Student and the for many more years my Diving Buddy and dear, dear friend. His passing is not only a great loss to Sallie, Grace and Richard but to all who knew him and who had the honor and privilege to call him a friend.

    Posted by Howard Rosenstein | March 15, 2014, 2:54 pm
  2. Sam and I first met when we were students at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Both of us hailing from Texas (he unfortunately from Houston and I from Dallas), we soon became fast friends. It was a friendship that would last sixty-two years, even though we were often in different parts of the world. After we both retired, our families continued to be close friends, and he and I embarked on numerous adventures together. One of our most notable outings was retracing the steps of the Lewis and Clark expedition (Sam always claimed Merriwether Lewis as a fore bearer) by car, bus, ship, horseback, foot, and canoe — the last involving us as subjects of a Montana search and rescue mission. Sam and Sallie were my ideal couple: loving, generous, outgoing, completely without airs despite traveling in a rarefied atmosphere. Sam distinguished himself as a talented diplomat devoted to peace. He also was a wonderful human being and a treasured friend and companion whom I will miss terribly.

    Posted by Gene Reese | March 12, 2014, 11:31 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

IPDGC’s twitter feed