Even though the United States Constitution prohibits the US or the States from issuing titles of nobility, the longing for lifetime honors still exists in certain status-conscious professions. Politicians, probably more than any other group of people, fit that description.
Despite the desire of every SES2 to retain his or her title long after being fired by the under-secretary just above in rank, really only three offices of the United States confer a lifetime title, and only by custom, not by statute:
- President of the United States
- Flag or General Officer in the Armed Forces
I'm prompted to post this reminder because some news stories about the death of Ambassador and former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson today have omitted the adjective phrase "former New Mexico" from his identification. Since he won US Senate confirmation to become the US Ambassador to the United Nations in 1997, writers could refer to him as Ambassador Richardson or call him Mr Ambassador for the rest of time. But he wasn't properly addressed as "Mr Governor" at any time after leaving that office in 2011, or "Mr Secratary" after stepping down in 1998.
Addressing him as Mr Secretary, Mr Governor, or Mr Congressman when he no longer held office was not appropriate. Governor is a higher rank than Ambassador, so while governing New Mexico, he would have been referred to as Governor Richardson. (Oddly, though, leaving the UN for the Energy Deptartment demoted him a step.)
So, rest in peace, Ambassador Richardson. You were a statesman.
One quick addendum: In some cases it may be appropriate to address a retired military officer by his or her title. Note this does not apply to people who muster out before retirement. Generally, people who remain on active duty long enough to reach O6 (Navy, Coast Guard, or Public Health Service Captain; Army, Marine, or Space Force Colonel) will retire rather than quit. It's very unusual for people to retire as O3 or O4 unless they were prior-enlisted and served 10 years or more before commissioning, which is why you will probably never call a retired officer "Lieutenant Jones." A retired captain may be addressed as "Captain Smith;" the guy who signed his DD-214 after two contracts is just "Mr Smith."