I had a email recently from a friend complaining that my blog is “all about JFK !” and I wrote back, okay, I’d do more items on golf. She quickly replied, “Well, then maybe you should stay with the early days of the Peace Corps.”

There is a lot one can write about when it comes to the days  when the Peace Corps was attracting the best and the brightest. An early document of the agency said that the staff in D.C. and around the world was composed of “skiers, mountain climbers, big-game hunters, prizefighters, football players, polo players and enough Ph.D.’s [30] to staff a liberal arts college.” There were 18 attorneys, of whom only four continue to work strictly as attorneys in the General Counsel’s office, and the rest [including Sargent Shriver] did other jobs. Also, all of these employees were parents of some 272 children.

In terms of staff and PCVs, the ratio was quite small [then and now]. Figures from WWII show that 30 people were required to support every soldier in the front lines. After the war, peacetime ratio was one person in Washington to every four overseas. The Peace Corps was organized with the goal of ten Volunteers on the job for every administrative or clerical person in support, and that meant everyone, from clerks, typists [remember them?] to overseas staff.


In those heavy days when HQ was located in the Maiatico Building at 806 Connecticut Avenue, the agency worked on Saturdays, Sundays, and late into the evening. There is a famous photo that appeared in the Washington Post of the building all ablaze with lights as the staff worked far past closing time. It was that kind of spirit that made the Peace Corps special. Or as Kennedy said to the Peace Corps staff, “I do not think it is altogether fair to say that I handed Sarge a lemon from which he made lemonade, but I do think that he was handed and you [The Peace Corps staff] were handed one of the most sensitive and difficult assignments which any administrative group in Washington has been given almost in this century.”

Over the next several months, I’ll tell stories about some of these ‘characters’ [and many of them were characters] who made up the HQ Staff in the very early days. I’ll start with Douglas Kiker, who was the first chief of the division of pubic information for the Peace Corps, and who once asked me, “how in the world did you get into the Peace Corps, Coyne?”

I told him the truth. I said, ”I applied.”