In this series (that I published years ago and republishing for those who have come lately to the site) I will attempt, in short-hand fashion (suitable for blogging), to tell the history of the first years of the agency and the men and women who created the Peace Corps.
In those early days of 1960s the agency was full of Mad Men (and a few Mad Women) who were living in a world-of-work atmosphere very much like the provocative AMC drama Mad Men, the program that followed a handful of ruthlessly competitive men and women in New York City who worked in advertising on Madison Avenue. They were living (in case you never saw the series) in an ego-driven world where “selling” was all that matters.
The series is set in the early Sixties and has everything we grew up with: cigarette smoking, drinking, sexism, adultery, racism, etc. (I might have left out a few ‘isms’.)
Well, some (if not all) of this happened as well in Peace Corps HQ. Not so much ‘like’ the stylized world of Madison Avenue, after all, the Peace Corps is a government agency and is in Washington, D.C., but a lot of the other stuff went on, in-out-and around D.C. While the Peace Corps was, after all, off to do good in the world, not everyone who worked there was an Eagle or Girl Scout.
There were a lot of ego-driven men (and women) fueled by the success of the Kennedy campaign and election with rich personalities, great histories, and big appetites. They filled the offices in the first Peace Corps HQ, the old Maiatico Building, (across Lafayette Park from the White House) and were often spotted rushing from floor to floor in pursuit of peace and justice and a lot of less honorable goals.
Some of them became my friends and I have stayed in touch with a few over the years. Sadly more than a few have, as we say today, passed.
So, without telling too many tales out of the Maiatico Building, over the next few weeks, I’ll give an accounting of the Mad Men of the Peace Corps who made the building an exciting place to work, even if it was on the fringes of the White House, Georgetown, and the New Frontier.
I’ll begin with my first boss at Peace Corps Headquarters who in 1964 was the Chief of what we then called (and which no longer exists) the Division of Volunteer Field Support. His name is Padraic Kennedy.