I’ve saved this “character” for my last round-up of Peace Corps Mad Men. A television producer might think of featuring this person as the main character for a new series. He wouldn’t be a bad ‘concept’ as they say in Hollywood for a new show.
In those early days of the agency he invented a new way of doing things in the government (it didn’t last,) but did propel the Peace Corps from being a minor bureaucracy into a major player in D.C.
Warren Wiggins credits Bill Moyers as the key figure in the Peace Corps during those first years, citing Moyers role in creating full bipartisan support in Congress, and how he got Young and Rubicam to develop those award winning ads some of us today are old enough to recall.
All true. Warren was right about Moyers.
However, recently I read a draft of an essay “Reflections on the Peace Corps” by the late Robert Textor, a former professor of Anthropology at Stanford, has written for the University of Michigan Peace Corps event held on the 50th Anniversary of the agency. Textor recalls the very early days when he worked as a consultant and trainer at the Peace Corps. Bob writes: “In the summer and fall of 1961, PC/W was an unbelievably booming, buzzing place,
populated by a couple hundred remarkably colorful, energetic, idealistic, intelligent, independent-minded people, many of whom were highly ambitious politically, and all of whom were trying very hard to be effective and to make the Peace Corps successful. Everyone was in a hurry. Everything was in short supply, even simple office equipment. (More than once I would leave my office for a few minutes, only to return and discover that in the meantime someone had made off with my chair!) Confusion and ambiguity reigned. All sorts of decisions were being made and unmade. The Peace Corps Director, the hyper-energetic Robert Sargent Shriver, Jr. — ‘Sarge’ to us all — was very much in charge, often even down to matters of minute detail.
“Sarge and others in the top leadership felt, and transmitted, an unrelenting impatience to increase the number of Volunteers, and the number of countries to which they would be sent — as quickly as possible.”
The ‘job’ of “getting the numbers” fell on the shoulder of one man, the first director of Recruitment. A man by the name of Bob Gale.
As Coates Redmon writes in her book, Come As You Are:
“Robert Lee Gale, a native of Saint Cloud, Minnesota, reported to work at Peace Corps headquarters in Washington in March 1963, which was late by ‘founding father’s standards. Yet his arrival was perfectly timed for him to perform a service that was absolutely crucial to the Peace Corps’ continued success and possibly to its survival–a service that he alone among humans could have performed. Gale had no idea of this natural matching of man and job that was soon to evolve, nor had Shriver or Haddad when they first interviewed Gale.”
So, let me tell you about Bob Gale and what he created at the Peace Corps in the spring of ’63! In many ways, because of Bob Gale we still have a Peace Corps today.