RUTH MacKENZIE SAXE, Deputy Director of the Peace Corps under Carolyn Payton in the early ’70s, and a long time Washington resident, died at The Washington Home on March 15, 2015 at the age of 86. The cause of her death was complications from a series of strokes.
A divorcee with two small children, she drove across the country from Minnesota, arriving in Washington on August 28, 1963, the day of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream Speech” on the National Mall and worked for the Peace Corps as a program office in the Caribbean-area region until 1970, yet another Washington staffer to break Shriver’s famous 5-year-rule.
In 1970 Saxe became the first Director of Volunteers at the citizens’ lobby Common Cause where she helped originate “The Washington Connection” linking DC area volunteers to the 435 congressional districts. She later served in a number of other positions at that organization, including Vice-President, was on its governing board, and wrote the official history of its first 10 years.
She returned to the Peace Corps as Deputy Director when the head of ACTION was Sam Brown, and he had one of his famous blow-up, this time in Africa, with the Peace Corps Director, Carolyn Payton, the first woman and the first African-American to head the agency. As recounted in Stanley Meisler’s (PC/HQ 1964-67) book on the agency When the World Calls,
The feud between Payton and Brown reached a bitter climax at a meeting of the directors of Peace Corps programs in North Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and the Pacific in November 1978. They met in Morocco in a Mediterranean resort between Rabat and Casablanca called Mohammedia. Brown believed that Payton, for two months before the conference began, “was on the phone every day trying to undercut me in every way possible.” Payton believed that Brown had ignored her during the conference and tried to take it over. His strategy, she felt, “obviously was ‘Get Carolyn,’….”
After one day’s session of the conference, Brown phoned her in her hotel room after midnight. Several of her associates, including Ruth Saxe the deputy director of the Peace Corps, and Ellen Yaffe, the Executive Officer in charge of the budget, were in the room with her and could hear his loud, angry voice, “Carolyn, why the fuck don’t you get out of here?” he said. She hung up, and Brown showed up fifteen minutes later, bang on her door.
Saxe was actively involved in running the J.W. Saxe Memorial Fund, which, beginning in 1982, made annual grants to U.S. college and university students to encourage them in public service. The fund, which she founded in memory of her husband, has made over 250 awards.
She was also active in local affairs, having served from a number of years as editor of Citizens Association of Georgetown newsletter and also published a book of essays, Aspects of Georgetown.