Linda Thomas-Greenfield had a busy holiday week.
The first media reports emerged a week ago Sunday that the retired U.S. ambassador was most likely President-elect Joe Biden’s pick for envoy to the United Nations in New York. On Monday, the Biden transition confirmed the news and on Tuesday she joined Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and their new national security team on stage for a rollout.
But perhaps more telling of who this career diplomat is, is what Thomas-Greenfield did Wednesday and Thursday — making and dropping off dinner for over a half dozen colleagues and friends who were alone for Thanksgiving, according to Jendayi Frazer.
“She has the X factor,” said Frazer, who served as George W. Bush’s ambassador to South Africa and assistant secretary of state for African affairs. “She’s thinking about other people. She cares about them and she just has a warmness about her and a generosity … and that’s where the X factor comes in.”
Thomas-Greenfield’s nomination has been celebrated in the U.S. Foreign Service and among career diplomats, especially diplomats of color. In interviews with several officials who served with her or know her well, she’s consistently described as warm, down to earth, sharp, seasoned and compassionate — a unique brand that she calls “gumbo diplomacy.”
“She’s honestly like our Foreign Service mother,” said a State Department official, who like many described Thomas-Greenfield as a mentor and requested anonymity to speak candidly.
“She is just the ideal. She is who you want to be. She’s so competent and smart and compassionate and loving and kind,” they added. “I’m almost getting emotional just thinking of having everyone know how amazing she is. She’s been like our little secret.”
That is likely to change now that Biden has tapped her to join his Cabinet, once again elevating the role of U.N. ambassador to that level. While Nikki Haley was a member of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet while serving in the same role, his second envoy Kelly Craft was not, just like envoys under both Bush administrations.
A career Foreign Service officer, she was tapped to serve as U.S. ambassador to Liberia by President George W. Bush and director general of the Foreign Service by President Barack Obama, overseeing recruitment, training, promotions, diversity and more.
Key to her new role, she also served as assistant secretary for African affairs, the top U.S. diplomat for the continent, under Obama. She worked closely with Tony Blinken, then-Deputy secretary of state and now Biden’s pick to be secretary, as well as John Kerry, the former top diplomat who will serve as Biden’s special envoy for climate.