He was not a mad man at the Peace Corps, that was for sure. He was born in Hugo, Oklahoma, raised in Marshall, Texas, and some say he was the smartest kid ever to come out of a Texas high school. He started college at North Texas State in Denton, Texas, where he was twice elected president of his class, and twice named the college’s outstanding student.
Then in the summer before his junior year, he took a summer internship in the Washington office of Democratic leader of the Senate, Lyndon Johnson, that set him on a chain of events which would lead him to the Peace Corps. Today many say it is because of him that there is a Peace Corps, for so much ’turned out right’ in those first years because of his friendship with LBJ and how he was able to ‘protect’ the agency.
And this is how is all occurred.
The Texas college kid took a summer internship in the office of Lyndon Johnson, and even today, he says that if it hadn’t been for going to Washington in that summer of 1954, he would have probably spent his career teaching ethics at Baylor University.
After that summer in D.C., while still in school, he went to work for Mrs. Johnson’s Austin radio and television stations in Texas (KTBC-AM and KTBC-TV) and graduated from college in 1956. He won the award given to the journalism student with the highest four-year scholastic average. He also won a Rotary International Fellowship to study at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.
Returning to Texas after Scotland, he enrolled at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, and took a job as director of information for the Seminary, which was the largest Baptist training institution in the world. He earned a Bachelor of Divinity degree and was set to go teach at the Baylor when he got another call from LBJ.
Johnson was now the Majority Leader, and LBJ offered the kid from Texas the job of special assistant working for the Majority Leader in his relations with the Senate. “To me,” he would say later, “the offer was irresistable.”
He went to Washington during the Senator’s 1960 campaign for the Vice Presidency, living in the Johnsons’ home for the better part of that year, and working as, among other duties, the liaison with the presidential campaign of JFK.
There are a lot of stories one can tell about this man. I’ll tell just three of them over the next few days.
In the fast moving climate of those times, he could have had many jobs in political Washington, but he wanted the Peace Corps. And while he wasn’t in the Mayflower Hotel, not part of that Gang, he would be key to Shriver’s success on the Hill, especially dealing with southern senators and convincing them to support the new Peace Corps.
As told by Coates Redmon in her book, even before Kennedy issued the executive order to create the Peace Corps, the Texas Kid began actively chafing to get into it. Johnson at first dug in his heels and said no, but finally he gave in. LBJ was in kind of a blue funk one day and he was feeling nibbled away by the young assistant. He said to him, “Your heart’s not here with me anymore. I guess you should go on over there.”
Kennedy, too, wanted the Texas Kid to stay where he was, with Johnson, because he had been invaluable during the campaign in keeping lines of communication open between the staffs of the two men. Kennedy told him, “Bill, we need you here to talk to because, you know, working with Lyndon is not the easiest thing in the world. But if you are determined, I don’t see how I can stop you.”
John was probably really thinking, “If I’m ever going to get that boy back, I’d better let hin go now.” And Kennedy, probably thinking this: “He’s very userful heah, but he might be even more useful theah.”
The Texas Kid’s name, by the way, was Billy Don “Bill” Moyers.
[End of Part One]