Charles Peters, the founding editor of The Washington Monthly, a small political journal avidly read in the White House, Congress and the city’s newsrooms, died on Thursday at his home in Washington. He was 96. His death was confirmed by The Washington Monthly, which reported that Mr. Peters “had been in declining physical health for several years, mainly from congestive heart failure.”
Peters was The Monthly’s editor from 1969 until his retirement in 2001. He also wrote five books on politics, government and history, and a column, “Tilting at Windmills,” offering pithy thoughts on politics and current events, from 1977 to 2014.
A West Virginia Democrat who grew up in the Great Depression and World War II and adored President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, Mr. Peters, a lawyer and state legislator, honed his ideals as a local official in John F. Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign and later as an executive in the Peace Corps, responsible for evaluating its global performance.
Most of us remember him as the Chief of the Division of Evaluation in the first years of the Peace Corps. Born and raised in Charleston, West Virginia, he enlisted in the army in 1944 and spent the next 18 months as an infantryman, an engineering trainee–and a hospital patient, after he broke his back in a training accident. Patched up, he enrolled at Columbia College where ie took a B.A. in humanities and an M.A. in English, altering his studies with several trips to Europe.
Peters received his law degree in 1957, and brought it back to Charleston where he entered his father’s law firm. He also brought back his bride, who he met while he was on the Virginia campus.
In 1960, he was elected to the House as a Democrat from Charleston. “I was immediately taken with the idea of the Peace Corps, and I came to work for it in April, 1961–with the idea of staying three month,” Peters said. Once aboard, he decided he wanted to remain, and was there until his political magazine.
Arriving as a consultant to the General Counsel, Peters negotiated with the government of Puerto Rico for the establishment of Camp Crozier at Rio Abajo. Peace Corps work took him to the Philippines, St. Lucia, Ghana, Nigeria, Pakistan, Thailand and Malaya — as the first field evaluator in 1962. Peters put together the first self-evaluation unit in the federal government. At the suggestion of Bill Haddad, Associate Director for the Office of Planning and Evaluation, Peters hired reporters to do the evaluations. “It was Haddad who believed that academics would get so mired in programmatically detail and plodding recitation that the people who would need to read the evaluations, and perhaps act swiftly on their recommendations, would simply start tossing them into the wastebasket,” as Coates Redmon writers in her book on the creation of the Peace Corps: Come As You Are The Peace Corps Story.
Peters was the Peace Corps chief of evaluating from April 1962 until April 1969, entering and exiting on the same day, April 27. It was, in my opinion, Peters and his evaluators who kept the Peace Corps on the straight and narrow, and never forgot the challenge that Kennedy gave PCVs when he created the agency.
Peters would leave the Peace Corps and start The Washington Monthly. A magazine which examines and exposes corruption, wrongheadedness, mismanagement, stupidity, waste, and catch-22 ironies in all bureaucracies, be they of the public or private section” Redmon wrote in her book.
What a career Charlie Peters had. He help create–and keep straight–the Peace Corps, and then create a magazines that for decades has done the same for the federal government.