By Cary Shuman
Susie Kitchens is concluding her term this month as the British Consul General to Boston, bidding farewell to the city and the countless people whom she helped during her reign in the prestigious diplomatic post.
Kitchens has served in the position for four years, which is the standard term for those who work in British diplomatic service. She will be succeeded by career diplomat Harriet Cross, whose most recent position was deputy head of mission in Yemen, a site that was closed due to security reasons.
Kitchens earned acclaim from British nationals living in New England and leaders of British-American organizations for her numerous accomplishments in office and the professional and gracious manner in which the diplomat represented the United Kingdom.
Ken Vacovec, president of the British American Business Council of New England, joined other influential leaders in the community in praising Kitchen’s work as Consul General and the energy and visibility she brought to the office.
“Susie Kitchens was one of the brightest, most accomplished consuls that we’ve had in Boston,” said Vacovec. “I was particularly impressed by her ability to penetrate the market. Everyone knew her, from government to business to individuals, both in the British community and generally throughout the city. She was everywhere and she was well respected by all the people she dealt with. Susie is quite an impressive woman and quite an accomplished consul. I believe she performed her duties in the way the government of the United Kingdom would be happy to have from any of their consuls – to have the impact that she had for the British community in Boston and New England.”
Kitchen has enjoyed a distinguished career in diplomatic service. Prior to arriving in Boston, she was the Deputy High Commissioner in Tanzania. She previously worked in the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London on bilateral relations with Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Haiti; on consular policy; and on the United Nations Security Council. She also served as a political officer in Guatemala.
Before joining the government, Kitchens worked in international development in Pakistan and El Salvador. She holds an undergraduate degree from Oxford University and a Master’s Degree from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Though her paternal grandfather, Ayrton Pullan, served as a diplomat (Mr. Pullan died before Kitchens was born), she offered, “I didn’t really know anything about a diplomatic career until after I joined the service.”
Kitchens said her “moment of enlightment” came in El Salvador. “I was there working for an international agency called CARE and we implementing a program around school improvement. We were introducing ideas around health education.
“We were hoping to scale up the initiative by getting some of these ideas put in to the national curriculum. But we were finding it very hard to get any traction with the Minister of Education. By chance I met a lady who was working at the British Embassy in El Salvador. She told me, ‘I’m having lunch with the Ministry of Education tomorrow, would you like me to mention it?’
“So I had a light bulb moment: ‘right, that’s how you get things done.’’’
Kitchens, who still maintains a friendship with the lady, soon after applied to join the Her Majesty’s diplomatic service “and now I can see the value of working government and non-government organizations in partnership – being helpful takes both sides of the spectrum.”
In her position as Consul General, Kitchens has welcomed many high profile visitors to Boston and her office residence in Beacon Hill.
Kitchens has hosted the former British prime minister and other dignitaries including the former foreign secretary, the secretary of education, the former mayor of London, and secretary of state for Northern Ireland. She has also hosted numerous Parliamentary and trade delegations. One such meeting resulted in the formation of a company.
Governor Charlie Baker, former Governor Deval Patrick, Sen. Edward J. Markey, and Congressman Joseph Kennedy III have met with Kitchens at the Consul General’s residence in Beacon Hill.
Kitchens estimates that there are 70,000 British expatriates living in New England and about 700,000 visitors come each year to the region.
“We do a lot of events for the British community in the region,” said Kitchens. “A lot of the Brits that are here tend to be working in very interesting fields and we use them as extension ambassadors in to the community.”
She cited MIT Associate Dean for Innovation Fiona Murray and MIT Professor Robert Langer as two examples of individuals who have been outstanding ambassadors to the UK-US relationship in their fields.
Kitchens said she was proud of her service as Consul General.
“I like to think that the British community saw us as a useful resource,” said Kitchens. “We certainly see them as friends of Britain outside of the country. We can help them if they get in to trouble but generally it’s a very positive relationship.”
In addition to the British American Business Council of New England, Kitchens worked closely with local organizations such as Boston Biotech Brits, the British Charitable Society, the British Officers Club of New England, the Irish Charitable Society and the Scottish Charitable Society. Kitchens also assisted many British students attending colleges in the region.
Kitchens has mixed emotions about leaving Boston.
“I made a lot of friends and this has been such a brilliant city to live in,” said Kitchens. “I had a beautiful location in Beacon Hill and I have many friends on the Hill. Boston is a very friendly and welcoming city, very accessible and beautiful. We built up many memories here as well having all those visitors. I ran the Boston Marathon this year. My time was 3 hours, 47 minutes and I’m pretty pleased with that. I raised money for the Red Cross. It was an amazing experience.”
She and her husband, Michael, and their two children, Tamira and Tyson, attended Red Sox games and a soccer friendly between Liverpool and Roma at Fenway Park where she participated in the ceremonial coin toss on the field with Mayor Martin Walsh and the Italian Consul General of New England. She has enjoyed visits to the TD Garden and Gillette Stadium.
Kitchens and her family will be returning to London where she will begin work in a policy making position at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for a year before moving to Kenya. There, Kitchens has been named Deputy High Commissioner in Nairobi.