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Representing America

Political science alumna Pamela Bridgewater is a two-time U.S. Ambassador and diplomat to countries around the world.

Date: 6/26/2009
By: Kim Burdett
Phone: (513) 556-8577
Photos By: Courtesy of U.S. Government
The highlight of Pamela Bridgewater’s long career in Foreign Service is easy to pinpoint, she says. As a consul general in Durban and a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa, she was able to witness and play a role in the 1994 democratic election of Nelson Mandela.

As apartheid tore apart the nation, Bridgewater was able to develop a level of trust with Mandela and members of other parties to make sure the election—the first to hold universal suffrage—would take place.

Pamela Bridgewater.
Bridgewater, seen here with members of the U.S. Naval Forces Europe and deputy Minister of Defense, breaks ground at the Africa Partnership Station, a new medical clinic in Ghana.

“We talked about important things like conflict resolutions and focusing on commonalities as opposed to things that separate us,” Bridgewater says. “We worked to broker peace to make sure the elections were held. And I’m very proud of the significant role that the U.S. government and our embassy played during those times.”

“That was a glorious day in 1994,” she reminisces, when Mandela took the oath of office as President of South Africa. “Nothing will top that.”

While the pinnacle of her career, it is by far not her only great accomplishment as a U.S. Foreign Service Officer. Since earning her master’s in political science from the University of Cincinnati in 1970, Bridgewater has held assignments in Belgium, the Bahamas, Jamaica, and was the U.S. Ambassador to Benin. Just last July, she ended her second ambassadorship, a three-year assignment in Ghana.

As the ambassador to Ghana, Bridgewater oversaw the embassy’s move to a new state-of-the-art facility, hosted visits by President George W. Bush and Mrs. Laura Bush (among others), and helped the country celebrate its 50th anniversary as an independent nation.

One of her proudest moments as ambassador, she says, was when the U.S. and Ghana signed a $547 million Millennium Challenge grant, part of a program created under President Bush that aims to help developing countries investing in their own people and making good democratic inroads. The funds strengthen U.S.-Ghana relations and hope to boost the economy through agriculture and infrastructure for the West African country.

“We worked hard for the grant,” Bridgewater says. “We were very pleased that Ghana ultimately qualified and progress is being made on implementing the programs.”

Pamela Bridgewater.
Bridgewater presents a check to women in Nkawkaw, Ghana for construction of the T.I. Ahmadiyya Basic School Project.

She oversaw numerous initiatives to bring water, clinics, education and funds for microenterprise development to improve the lives of the Ghanaian people. Child trafficking and illegal narcotics trafficking were two other serious issues Bridgewater focused on while in Ghana, alongside other, more-celebratory events like the Ghanaian soccer team making it to the semifinals of the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations.

“When I look back, I’ve always had a desire for internationality. I wanted to reach across borders,” Bridgewater says.

She thanks UC for giving her the opportunity to meet diverse groups of people on campus that opened her eyes to the world’s unique cultures. It was a Danforth Fellowship that brought Bridgewater to UC after her undergrad at Virginia State University, and while here, she wrote her master’s thesis on the party system in Kenya.

“Education is so very important,” Bridgewater says. “All my universities have taken great care of me and nurtured me, but it’s always up to the individual to maximize on the opportunities that a university can give.”

Maximizing opportunity, indeed. Bridgewater could have retired years ago, but it is her never-ending quest to learn that has kept her applying for new assignments. Today, she is a team leader for the Office of the Inspector General in Washington, D.C., which lets her travel to embassies around the world to assess management, operational needs and senior leadership.

What’s next on the list for Bridgewater? While she’s not sure, she is hoping to look into the multilateral side of diplomacy such as U.S.-United Nations relations, or perhaps another tour as a chief of mission before retiring. And she hasn’t worked in Asia yet, so that’s an option she’s keeping open as well.

“I look at what’s available and what piques my interest that will do the most good,” she says. “Right now I’m just working and enjoying the contributions I am still making.”

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