Nov. 15, 2023
Retired U.S. Ambassador Anthony Godfrey shares decades of wisdom with his VCU students
In his political science class, he offers firsthand perspective on foreign affairs and insight into diplomacy as a career.
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Anthony F. Godfrey’s U. S. State Department assignments have taken him to hotspots around the world, from Russia and Iraq to Turkey and Serbia. The former U.S. ambassador is now putting down roots in Richmond and teaching at Virginia Commonwealth University as a way to continue to serve.
A seasoned leader in political science, foreign affairs and international studies, Godfrey is teaching a class – Russian and Eurasian Government and Politics – this semester for the Department of Political Science in VCU’s College of Humanities and Sciences, where he is sharing with students a lifetime of lessons in diplomacy and service.
Godfrey was a Foreign Service officer before his Senate-confirmed presidential appointment as ambassador to Serbia in 2019. Among his accomplishments there, he helped a U.S. company win a government infrastructure project valued at over $400 million and encouraged passage of laws to improve independence and transparency in Serbia’s judicial system, helping to overcome decades of distrust.
“That is also part of the job, to help advance U.S. interests and U.S. values,” Godfrey said, noting that ambassadors must be resourceful and flexible. “You have to adapt quickly. You have to understand complicated situations quickly.”
Before his 30-year career with the State Department, Godfrey served in the military for 12 years, learning Russian and cultivating an appreciation for diplomacy. His language skills were crucial during his four-year term as deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.
“They were challenging years. The Russians forced us to close one of our consulates after the U.S. sanctioned Russia for using a nerve agent against a former Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia, in Britain,” Godfrey said. “I also served in the U. S. Embassy in Baghdad after U.S. forces had withdrawn and ISIS was starting to present a threat.”
He then served as director for Iraq affairs at the State Department, working with the Pentagon and U.S. Central Command to develop and manage a 62-nation coalition to counter ISIS.
Even amid daunting responsibilities, Godfrey and his family found joy in most of his assignments.
“My service in Turkey was a blast. It’s a beautiful country and the people are great. My work was really interesting. My family really enjoyed that assignment,” he said of his assignment as counselor for political-military affairs at the U. S. Embassy in Turkey.
Godfrey also served in the White House, working with President Barack Obama, and after retiring from the State Department in 2022, Godfrey and his family settled in Richmond.
“We already liked Richmond,” he said. “My daughter, Eilis, graduated from VCU nine years ago, and I have two sons going to school in Williamsburg and Longwood.”
He wanted to teach at VCU to encourage students to pursue careers in diplomacy.
“I wanted to help folks understand the opportunity,” Godfrey said. “Previously, people didn’t think a job in diplomacy was within their reach. They didn’t try for this type of career. The State Department is doing a pretty good job of changing that perception.”
He hopes his students embrace the prospect of change, which he considers a highlight of his own career in diplomacy.
“It’s good for people who like a different challenge every few years, and I am in that category,” Godfrey said. “I like being thrown into a new environment and a new situation. I like learning a new culture.”
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