Over the weekend I finished reading Stanley Meisler (PC/Evaluator 1963-67) new history of the Peace Corps. It was a bit nostalgic to be reading it while in D.C. for a meeting with the Deputy Director, and being in what is called the Paul D. Coverdell Peace Corps Headquarters (the naming of this building is really a miscarriage of justice,) a building located at 1111 20th Street N.W. where at 5:30 in the evening you could hear a pin drop. Where was everyone? I asked myself. PCVs overseas were working 24/7, but the staff had split by 5 o’clock and gone home like any other government bureaucrat!
I will say that on this Friday night Aaron Williams was still working in his 8th floor office, and Carrie, the Deputy, was rushing back from New Jersey for our late meeting. The only other staffers I ran into in the empty hallways was Carrie Hessler-Radelet’s aide-de-camp, former four-year PCV in Paraguay, Dan Westerhof, and Bruce Cohen, who has been around the Peace Corps since the beginnings of Time. Cohen is one Republican who really knows how to work the system. I’m told Bruce, who is a good guy, is now an “Expert Consultant” to the agency, picking CD staff for overseas positions.
But Cohen is not the point, nor is my trip to D.C. the point–and I do have one! My point is about the change of climate of the agency from the early days. Meisler’s book reminded me how the Peace Corps use to be, and the long hours put into the agency by those first Staffers.
Stan’s book, When The World Calls: The Inside Story of the Peace Corps and Its First Fifty Years, is being published in February 2011. You can, however, order is now off of amazon.com. In the book Stan has a short story about the world-of-work for early Peace Corps staffers.
Stan writes that in 1963 he was working in Washington. D.C. for the Associated Press when he got the offer to join the agency. At the time he (and all reporters) looked on the federal government as ”our antagonist.” Writing in the Introduction, he says: “The federal government hid information from the American people, and it was the job of the Washington correspondent to ferret it out.”
Joining the government for Stan would be, I guess, like sleeping with the enemy.
Nevertheless, he took the job with the famous early Evaluation Division and went to work for Charlie Peters. This is what Stan remembers:
I soon found out how different the Peace Corps was. On my first day of work, I walked out of my office at the scheduled closing hour and noticed that no one else was leaving. So I slipped into the office of one of my colleagues, Richard Richter, the future ABC television news producer, and asked him what was going on. He laughed and explained that everyone liked to show their commitment by working well past closing time and coming in on Saturday. Since he had already finished his work for the day, he agreed with me that it seemed pointless to hang around and we headed to the bank of elevators. As we did so, our boss, Charles Peters, spotted us from afar. “What do you two guys think this is?” he bellowed. “The Department of Agriculture?
Welcome to the Peace Corps!