Dick Lipez’s (Ethiopia 1962-64) review of George Packer’s (Togo 1982-83) new collection of essays got me thinking about the early evaluators of the agency. Lipez was one of the first RPCVs to be hired by Charlie Peters in the Office of Evaluation, back in the summer of ‘64. Maureen Carroll (Philippines 1961-63) and Mick McGuire (Pakistan 1962-64) were already working for Charlie, but I can’t recall other RPCVs in the Office of Evaluation. These three RPCVs were the first PCVs to end up working for Charlie. I believe Peggy Anderson (Togo 1962-64) also came on board that summer of ‘64. Peggy is the author of Nurse and The Daughters: An Unconventional Look At America’s First Fan Club, among others books of non fiction. I remember meeting Peggy in the fall of ‘64 when I went to work at the agency and thought she was the prettiest woman in Washington.
The truth was, if you were a newly returned PCV, and you were smart enough to stay on the elevator at the Maiatico Building until it reached the eleventh floor–where the Office of Evaluation was located–you got the job any RPCVs who love to write wanted to have. Charlie Peters would leave the Peace Corps to establish the Washington Monthly, and be the mentor to generations of fine journalists, but when he was ’starting out’ at the Peace Corps he had come out of West Virginia where he had been a country lawyer and a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates.
Peters went to work for the Peace Corps in March, 1961, as a consultant to the General Counsel. He was the staffer who negotiated with the government of Puerto Rico for the establishment of Camp Crozier at Rio Abajo, and by February he was promoted to Chief of the new Evaluation Division, as it was then called, and came into his own.
When someone gets around to writing the story of journalism in D.C. in the 1960s & 1070s, they better begin with Charlie, and not Woodward and Bernstein.
Charlie had a habit in the early days of the agency of hiring good journalists to evaluate Peace Corps programs. In his first years he hired Richard Rovere, Calvin Trillin, James Michener, Fletcher Knebel, Mark Harris, and Stan Meisler among others.
By hiring these journalists and novelists, for short term assignments, they then became advocates, fans, constituents, and supporters of the Peace Corps as Shriver told Charlie, “Get the opinion makers on your side!” Peters did. Coates Redmon tells all of this story in her book on the early days of the Peace Corps, Come As You Are.
But hiring talented reporters to do the evaluations was actually Bill Haddad’s idea. Haddad was the Associate Director of the Office of Planning, Evaluation and Research. He was Charlie’s boss. Haddad was known as the guy who at the age of 14 joined the Army Air Corps to be a pilot and got as far as cadet squadron commander before his true age was found out. Later, at a much older age, (18) he would become the youngest U.S. officer in World War II. After the war and after college, he went to work for Estes Kefauver, worked on Kefauver’s run for the presidency, and then for the Kennedy presidential campaign as a special assistant to Bobby Kennedy. It was while he was working for the AG that Shriver found Haddad and brought him into the Peace Corps as the Associate Director for the Office of Planning and Evaluation.
Haddad wanted an Evaluation Office. He told Shriver: “Let’s get our own guys to go out there and find out what’s goin’ on, and if there’s something wrong, we’ll be the first to know and can correct it before the press gets onto it and starts screamin’.”
Haddad wanted the evaluation reports to be read, and most (if not all) academics and bureaucrats can’t write, he said. Haddad wanted writers who made a living from their prose. Again, Shriver told Peters, “We want people to look forward to getting these reports, not dread them. We want them to be read eagerly and thoroughly because the true story of the Peace Corps will be in these reports.”
The first full-time, on-staff evaluators were David Gelman from the New York Post, Philip Cook of the New York Herald Tribune, Tim Adams of the San Francisco Examiners, then Dick Elwell who had been with the San Francisco News. These were the days of great newspapers and great newspaper writers.
I never worked for Charlie Peters. I never was lucky (or smart enough) like my fellow Ethiopian Volunteer, Dick Lipez, to ride the elevator to the eleventh floor. But let me end this long blog by telling another story from Coates Redmon’s book, and that is how Charlie Peters came to the Peace Corps.
Peters sailed into the Peace Corps in late March of 1961. Kenny O’Donnell had called Shriver from the White House saying he was sending over Charles Peters from Charleston, West Virginia. Peters had organized the president’s successful primary campaign there. He (Peters) was ready to give up an exceptionally promising political and legal career to be part of the Peace Corps, O’Donnell said. Everyone in the White House: O’Brien, Sorensen, and Bobby Kennedy, all of whom had been impressed with Peter’s performance on the campaign. By the time Shriver passed the word to Moyers, Peters had become a miracle worker and a genius.
Moyers told his assistant, Nancy Gore, the Peace Corps’ resident Scarlett O’Hara and female political sage (as the daughter of Tennessee’s Senator Albert Gore), to go out to the elevators and greet “the man who carried West Virginia for Jack Kennedy.”
Gore, expecting someone on the order of John Wayne, glanced at the short, vaguely roly-poly man with the raccoon like eyes and eyebrows, whose cigarette was dripping ashes on his tie, and dismissed the possibility that he was Peters the Powerhouse of recent legends. But Peters asked Gore for directions to Moyer’s office, and Nancy realized that this was the man they were waiting for.
Peter was offered a job as a consultant in the general counsel’s office, which Pete describes as “a position of almost pathetic obscurity when you consider the structure of a bureaucracy. I thought I was a patronage case pure and simple–you know, the poor idiot who had worked hard in some essential capacity. I figured Sarge had been ordered to take me. But what the hell, I thought. I had landed where I wanted to land. I had my foot in the door.”
But in the early days of the Peace Corps, if you were an RPCV just home from the Third World, you came to realize that if you could make it passed Charlie Peters’ door, you had made it to the promised land.