In the summer of ’62 slightly more than 300 of us traveled early in July to Georgetown University to begin Peace Corps training for Ethiopia. I was one of many ‘Kennedy Kids” coming out of the Midwest. Just out of college, just off an Illinois farm, it was the first time I had ever been on a plane. In those days all the airlines had beautiful stewardesses serving free drinks and endless snacks, and somewhere over the Allegheny I fell in love with my stewardess. It was a short romance as I was heading for Africa and in those days of the New Frontier the great adventure was the Peace Corps.
But my first weekend in Washington at Georgetown was like being back at college. I had graduated from another Jesuit college–St. Louis University–and I knew all about stone wall campuses, College Gothic Buildings, and Jesuits in religious garb saying their prayers on the quadrangle, all of them resembling black birds from another century as they paced the walks in the twilight hours of the day.
That first weekend, that Sunday night, we went for a hike along the old Georgetown Canal. It was billed as a walk with Chief Justice William O. Douglas–his photo had been in the newspapers the week before doing just that with other Trainees. [It was because of his efforts that the historic Georgetown Canal was saved and not turned into a highway.] Douglas didn’t show that night for the Ethie I Volunteers, but other PC/W illustrious types did.
Our few miles of walk along the canal was, I’m sure, the idea of Harris Wofford, the country director for Ethiopia. It was just the kind of thing Harris would dream up. We hadn’t met Harris, though we were told he was dividing his time between the Peace Corps HQ and the White House where he was Kennedy’s special assistant for civil rights which made him, at least in our eyes, someone very important, someone close to JFK.
There was another rumors that swept through our ranks as we followed each other off campus, through the back alleys of Georgetown itself and down the hill to the canal, that Shriver himself was coming on the hike [he didn’t] but a hand full of Peace Corps Staff from 800 Connecticut Avenue did join us on the narrow path on that humid evening.
One of the hikers was Jane Campbell who was the age of most of us and working at the Peace Corps in DVS. We, of course, had no idea was a DVS was. That was all ‘Washington Talk’ but it didn’t matter to us what Jane said. Jane was lovely in the way of the famous movie star of the day, Eva Marie Saint [we saw her in On the Waterfront and Hitchcock’s North by Northwest.] I kept thinking, wow, this Peace Corps is all right. First I got to meet a beautiful airline stewardess somewhere over the Allegheny, and now Jane Campbell walking along the Georgetown Canal. What next?
Jane would go from DVS to APCD in Ethiopia and there in Addis Ababa become famous for raising lion clubs [that’s another tale to tell you at another time] but meanwhile here’s a photo of Jane in Ethiopia with one of her lion cubs. At the time only the Emperor Haile Selassie [and Jane] had lions in captivity; they were the symbol of HIS Royal family.]
Also on our evening walk was another of those famous people Shriver had corralled to work for the new Peace Corps: John D. Rockefeller IV. Jay was 25 and a ‘special assistant’ to Sarge [later he would become the Far East program officer in charge of the Philippines and North Borneo/Sarawak. Then Charlie Peters, who started the Division of Evaluation, and who had been in the West Virginia State Legislature, talked Rockefeller into run for the governor of West Virginia (1977-85) and then for the U.S. Senate from West Virginia.]
On the evening of our walk Jay was just back from Asia. He was a graduate of Harvard and then did some postgraduate work at Yale. He also spent three “Peace Corps-type years” as a student and teacher in a Japanese university. Before joining the HQ staff he had been appointed to Kennedy’s first National Advisory Council on the Peace Corps.
Rockefeller spoke to us that evening about his time in Asia, and Wofford talked about Ethiopia and the Peace Corps, and the head of the training program at Georgetown, a guy named Gear, talked about our training program. [Gear had a younger brother who also worked on the training staff; we quickly nicknamed them, “Hi Gear’ and “Low Gear.’]
While Rockefeller and Wofford talked, we had beer and hot dogs, thus beginning the long tradition of Peace Corps gatherings. I have no idea what Rockefeller and Wofford had to say that night. We were so wrapped up in the wonderfulness of ourselves and this new adventure we were on that we didn’t pay much attention to anyone but ourselves. We were the Peace Corps, so new that when we went off to Peace Corps training the story was carried on the evening news of our hometown radio and television stations. [Little did we know that the Peace Corps public information office, remember Doug Kiker?, was sending press releases to all the local radio stations giving them our names and hometowns.The Peace Corps was so new it was news that we were joining.]
Truth was, that evening on the Georgetown canal we were in love about what we doing: joining the Peace Corps. And everyone from the Peace Corps HQ at 800 Connecticut kept telling us how special we were going off to Africa to change the world. Well, we were not that special and time and distance would teach us. But that night we were all young and innocent and in love with ourselves, and then, like tired hikes everywhere, we were loaded onto buses for the ride back to campus. The next morning at 5 a.m. Peace Corps Training began in earnest and slowly, slowly we learned the real truth about ourselves and the Peace Corps.