Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis was the U.S. Ambassador to Hungary from January 7, 2010 to July 20, 2013. From the date of her appointment, she was the highest-ranking Greek-American in the Obama Administration, until April 24, 2013, when Sylvia Mathews-Burwell was appointed Director of the Office of Management and Budget (and the following year, appointed Secretary of Health and Human Services).
Her memoir, to be released May 5, is titled Madam Ambassador: Three Years of Diplomacy, Dinner Parties, and Democracy in Budapest. From the Publisher’s notes: “Have you ever wondered what it takes to be a US Ambassador? In Madam Ambassador (May 5, 2015) we follow Eleni Kounalakis—mother of two, first-generation American, and first-time diplomat—as she finds herself posted in Budapest.
“A charming and entertaining tour guide, Kounalakis sees the world of international relations through fresh eyes. With no background in diplomacy (Kounalakis had previously worked as a property developer), she endures a grueling vetting
process in which she’s asked if she’d ever cheated on her husband or sent an embarrassing email, and attends ambassador ‘charm school,’ a two-week intensive training session with other prospective diplomats. But when she finds herself at the
helm of a medium-sized US Embassy in a former Soviet satellite nation, she realizes that nothing could have prepared her for the realities of this new life in Hungary.
“With startling candor, Kounalakis recounts the triumphs and gaffes of her newly-public life. Along with glamorous dinners and meetings comes the strain of fitting in. Her husband, a respected journalist, finds that he’s discouraged from attending gatherings organized by the diplomats’ spouses club, traditionally seen as women’s events. “Kounalakis’ children, accustomed to American-style discipline, are surprised at the realities of their new school. But Kounalakis meets all challenges head-on, and is soon welcoming a parade of visits by high-ranking U.S. government officials including Condoleezza Rice, Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton.
“Part foreign policy memoir and part all-American story, Madam Ambassador is a thoroughly entertaining and inspiring example of leadership.”
Kounalakis has a long and distinguished career in politics and academia. She and her husband, Markos Kounalakis, founded two university chairs in Hellenic studies: the Markos and Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis Chair at Georgetown University, and the Tsakopoulos Kounalakis Chair in honor of former Greek Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis at Stanford University. The couple also established the Tsakopoulos Kounalakis lecture series at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
For her near-decade of service as Trustee of the World Council of Religions for Peace (WCRP), Kounalakis was awarded the medal of St. Paul by the Greek Orthodox Church, the highest honor the Church bestows on a layperson.
A staunch Democrat who was a delegate to the National Convention four times, Kounalakis has been a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton and has already begun helping – by having a fundraiser in her home – for Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid.