This Mass. Native Is in Charge of Making the Biden Administration's Diplomatic Meetings Go Smoothly

The Office of the Chief of Protocol organizes around 350 visits per year by foreign leaders, foreign ministers and other high-ranking foreign dignitaries to Washington D.C.

NBC10 Boston

A Massachusetts native — whose career has taken him to Denmark as U.S. ambassador, where he became something of a television sensation — is now in charge of ensuring diplomatic meetings involving the White House and other world leaders go smoothly.

Rufus Gifford, who grew up in Manchester-by-the-Sea, serves as Chief of Protocol for the Biden Administration, a role that took him back to the Bay State as he oversaw Experience America last week. The event is an annual program by his office and the Department of State, meant to build business and cultural connections among ambassadors from around the world in a specific American community.

This year’s was held in Greater Boston.

“Biotech life sciences in the Boston area is growing exponentially, perhaps faster than any place in the world,” Gifford said. “So how do we take some of these countries that do amazing work, maybe in the same space. How do we either get them investing in this part of the world, or on the flip side of that, how do we get maybe some of the larger Boston, Massachusetts, New England-based industries to potentially take a look at their countries for investment?”

Experience America began in 2008, and has since brought foreign ambassadors to cities such as Austin, Texas, San Diego, California and Atlanta. This year’s program, which was held from Sunday through Tuesday of last week, brought over 30 ambassadors representing countries across five continents to Greater Boston and focused on the region’s life sciences industry and biotechnology field.

"It’s really about building those human connections, and hopefully in a place like this, a couple of people exchange business cards with an ambassador,” Gifford said. “We can actually help grow those relationships.”

One of the events during Boston’s Experience America was a roundtable discussion between ambassadors and technology leaders, business executives and research scientists at MassBio in Cambridge, an organization that represents and provides resources to life science companies.

"I really want them to understand the value that this industry can provide,” MassBio Vice President of Economic Development and Workforce Ben Bradford said. “This is an industry that changes lives for people all around the world, not just the people here in Massachusetts. So, understanding what goes into making a successful ecosystem, that's going to be good for all of us.”

Albanian ambassador to the U.S., Floreta Faber, was among the diplomats at MassBio. She’s gone on several Experience America trips throughout her tenure now, after being appointed to her position in 2015.

“Each of us...look at all the opportunities that we can share between our countries,” Ambassador Faber said. “We sometimes see ourselves also sharing a good experience because we work a lot internationally here, especially in Boston.”

Faber’s role as ambassador is a familiar one to Mass. native Gifford, who previously served as the U.S. ambassador to Denmark from 2013 to 2017. During that time, he became something of a celebrity in the Scandinavian country through a docuseries called “I Am the Ambassador.”

Gifford was more recently sworn in as Chief of Protocol for the United States with the rank of Ambassador on Jan. 3, 2022, and has since been overseeing diplomatic events between the Biden Administration and other world leaders.

“The truth is, if you’re doing your job right as Chief of Protocol of the United States, no one ever talks about it,” Gifford said. “I think the problem is the risks are very high, so if there is a misstep, meaning if you don’t address a member of the Royal Family the right way, it could cause embarrassment.”

The Office of the Chief of Protocol is tasked with even the specific details of these meetings, including ensuring that proper titles are used, choosing gifts to exchange, as well as making sure dietary restrictions and religious sensitivities are adhered to.

“One of the things that I think matters so much is, as it relates to protocol, is just the rules and customs by which we interact with each other,” Gifford said. “That is really what I focus on. Yes, there’s the high-level protocol if you’re engaging with Royals, but ultimately, it’s about dignity and respect fundamentally, and for us to be able to just engage with each other as human beings, as leaders and creating that kind of rules-based system in which we feel like the conversations can be the most constructive and productive.”

The Office of the Chief of Protocol organizes around 350 visits per year by foreign leaders, foreign ministers and other high-ranking foreign dignitaries to Washington D.C.

Gifford and his husband live in Washington D.C., but still have a home in Concord, Massachusetts.

“I hope so much that a trip like this will help bring the part of the country that I hold nearest and dearest, Boston and New England, closer to the rest of the world,” Gifford said. “I hope that happens.”

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