Ambassador Edward J. Perkins Speaker Series Fund


The Ambassador Edward J. Perkins Speaker Series Fund was established in September 2020 to recognize the incredible work of former student and Lewis & Clark life trustee, the late Ambassador Edward J. Perkins. Ambassador Perkins passed away on November 7, 2020; his obituary appears in The Washington Post.

The Perkins Fund would bring guest lecturers to campus to enrich the experience of students studying not only international affairs but all disciplines. An endowment for this annual lecture will honor in perpetuity Ambassador Perkins, his extraordinary legacy, and his connection to Lewis & Clark.

Efforts to create the Perkins lecture series were spearheaded by our own Diplomat in Residence, Niels Marquardt ’75, in July of 2020. Ambassador Perkins’ remarkable story has long been well-known to many on campus, where he was the commencement speaker in 1988 and served as a Trustee and Life Trustee since 1994. Recent events—including Perkins’ receiving the American Foreign Service Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award—have highlighted his trailblazing diplomatic career, which began in Portland, specifically on Palatine Hill.

Ambassador Perkins attended Lewis & Clark in the 1950s, after graduating from Jefferson High School in Portland’s predominantly African American Albina neighborhood. Ambassador Perkins went on to become America’s most senior diplomat, serving as the first Black Director-General of the Foreign Service. He served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and, in his final foreign service assignment, as the first Black U.S. Ambassador to Australia. He had served earlier as the first Black U.S. Ambassador to South Africa, sent there in 1986 by President Reagan to convey a pointed message of inclusion to the Apartheid regime that, at the time, was still holding Nelson Mandela in prison on Robbin Island. Ambassador Perkins also served earlier in his career as the top U.S. diplomat in Liberia. In 1992, Ambassador Perkins was honored as the college’s Distinguished Alumnus Award recipient. In the few months before his passing at age 92, Ambassador Perkins retained fond memories of, and multiple connections to, Portland and his alma mater.

“Lewis & Clark was where I got my academic start. It had an international focus that helped me see beyond my own experiences and contemplate the enormous challenges and opportunities that awaited.” —Edward J. Perkins, Life Trustee


To make a gift to honor the great work of Ambassador Perkins and to support the speaker series, you may do so on our website or you may contact Julie Newsome at for more information.


Edward J. Perkins was born in Sterlington, Louisiana in 1928 and grew up in Portland, Oregon where he graduated from Jefferson High School. After 3 years in the Army, Ambassador Perkins attended Lewis & Clark College before joining the Marines in 1956. Though he did not graduate from Lewis & Clark, he served on the Board of Trustees at the college from 1994 to 2004 and remained a Life Trustee until his death. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland and master’s and doctor of public administration degrees from the University of Southern California. He served three years in the Army and four years in  the Marine Corps with stints in Japan and South Korea. Ambassador Perkins was married to Lucy Ching-mei Liu, who passed away in 2009. They have two daughters, Katherine and Sarah, and four grandchildren.

Ambassador Perkins spent 24 years in the foreign service, beginning his career in 1972 as a staff assistant in the Office of the Director General. He served in numerous positions within the U.S. Department of State such as personnel officer and political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Accra, Ghana (1978–1981); Deputy Chief of Mission in Monrovia, Liberia (1981–1983); and director of the Department of State’s Office of West African Affairs (1983–1985) before being appointed as Ambassador to Liberia in 1985. He also was appointed Ambassador to South Africa (1989–1991) where he was instrumental in securing Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. In 1989, Ambassador Perkins was appointed as Director General of the Foreign  Service and Director of Personnel in the Department of State where he served from 1989 to 1992. In 1992, he was appointed as the U.S. Ambassador to the United  Nations and U.S. Representative to the U.N. Security Council, where he served from 1992 to 1993, until taking up his ambassadorial post in Australia. On  August 31, 1996, Ambassador Perkins retired from the foreign service with the rank of Career Minister. He subsequently went to the University of Oklahoma, where he spent 13 years as the William J. Crowe Chair and Executive Director of the International Programs Center.

Ambassador Perkins was an active member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity and has served on numerous boards including the advisory board of the Thursday Luncheon Group and the Board of Trustees of The  Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship and Foundation. He served as the president of the Black Ambassadors Association until the time of his death.

Ambassador Perkins has received numerous honors including:

     ●  Presidential Distinguished and Meritorious Service Awards
     ●  Department of State’s Distinguished Honor and Superior Honor Award
     ●  Una Chapman Cox Foundation Award for Distinguished Foreign Service Work
     ●  University of Southern California’s Distinguished Alumni Award
     ●  The Links, Inc. Living Legend Award
     ●  The Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Award for Distinguished Diplomatic Service
     ●  George Washington University’s 1992 Statesman of the Year Award
     ●  Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity’s highest honor: the 1993 Laurel Wreath Award for Achievement and       
         Distinguished Diplomatic Service
     ●  1998 Honoree of the Beta Gamma Sigma Chapter of The University of Oklahoma
     ●  2001 Recipient of the Director General’s Cup, awarded by the Department of State
     ●  2006 Dominion Resource Services, Inc. Strong Men and Women of America Honoree
     ●  And the 2020 American Foreign Service Association Nominee for the Lifetime Contributions to       
         American Diplomacy Award from the American Foreign Service Association

More about Ambassador Perkins and his foreign service career can be found in his book, Mr. Ambassador: Warrior for Peace.