Tom Shannon (right). Photo: Paul Richards / Getty Images

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Tom Shannon, a 35-year veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service and the department's most senior holdover from the Obama administration, announced his plans to retire Thursday, reports AP's Matthew Lee.

Why it matters: Though Shannon said he was stepping down for personal and not political reasons, the career diplomat was widely seen as a steadying force for a department in flux.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, "who has been criticized for his leadership of the State Department and removing or forcing out senior career officials," told Lee that he had asked Shannon to stay on, adding that his departure would be a loss. “Thirty-five years of experience is not something you replace overnight,” Tillerson told Lee.

Note: "Of five 'career ambassadors' on the job when Tillerson arrived at the State Department, only one remains and that diplomat is currently on sabbatical," writes Lee.

Official statement:

Today, Under Secretary Tom Shannon announced his intent to retire. Under Secretary Shannon has given a lifetime of service to the American people at the State Department. He’s a patriot, a diplomat and a great American who has served under six presidents and ten secretaries of state. His decision is personal. The Secretary has asked Under Secretary Shannon to stay on until his successor is named, and to ensure a smooth transition to the new Under Secretary for Political Affairs.  He has agreed to do so. We are all grateful to Under Secretary Shannon for his leadership and service to our country.

Go deeper: The diminishing State Department; Foreign Service head questions "disturbing trends" at State Department; Reassigned State Department employees claim political targeting

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