Joe Colmen Passes at 98 (HQ/Washington)

In her book on the early days of the Peace Corps, (Come As You Are) Coates Redmon writes of Colmen, “He was one of Shriver’s foils who could, like Mankiewicz and Gelman, make Shriver laugh his great whooping laugh and cause him to make light of things in tense situations. Colmen was an obsessive punster and an instigator of mass guffawing at senior staff meetings. Like Mel Brooks, whom Colmen physically resembled, Colmen likes to see the group dynamic reach the brink of craziness. Like Brooks, Colmen likes to provoke “dangerous laughing.”

On his first trip to Africa with Shriver, Colmen and a hand full of other HQ officials went to the royal palace of Emperor Haile Selassie and after Shriver’s official visit with the Emperor, Shriver and the small group were given a tour of the royal gardens.

As they reached an outer corridor of the palace, a sort of colonnade bordering on a garden they almost collided with a full-grown lion, attached to a small tree by a long rope, who was prowling the area pretty much at will.

The group of HQ Peace Corps stopped immediately.

“This is Tojo,” said the Ethiopian palace guard. “He is the Emperor’s favorite.”

“Is it all right if I pat him?” asked Shriver.

“Uh, if you wish,” said the guide.

Colmen turned to the other Peace Corps officials and whispered, “What is the line of succession at the Peace Corps, anyway?”

Joseph Colmen

Joseph Colmen, beloved husband of Muriel Colmen, loving father of Amy Colmen and Carolyn Cohen, and grandfather to Jennifer Riehl and Brian Cohen, died peacefully at his home in Silver Spring on March 13, 2018 at the age of 98. Services were previously held.

After serving in Naval Intelligence during WWII, Dr. Colmen settled in Washington, DC, where he served as Deputy Associate Director for the Peace Corps under Sargent Shriver. Subsequently, he served in the Johnson Administration as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Education in the Dept. of Health, Education and Welfare.

An industrial psychologist, Dr. Colmen retired from public service and spent the next three decades as a private consultant, working on such projects as FAA air traffic controller selection and analysis of teenage smoking behavior.

His combination of humor and humanitarianism will be missed by all who knew him. Contributions may be made in his memory to the Peace Corps Education Fund or the American Heart Association.

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  • In the mid-1960s, Joe and Harris Wofford shared a suite on the top floor of the Peace Corps Maiatico Building, and Sally Collier, at the door to the suite, kept them orderly and productive. It was a beehive of activity, especially involving recently returned PCVs. One day someone organized a meeting in the suite for about a dozen people, mainly RPCVs, probably more. (Harris was out, and so this happened in his absence.) I don’t recall the purpose of the meeting, but many of the young guys who were close to Harris were present. All these young people trouped into the office suite for the Assistant Director of the Peace Corps and settled into the big chairs inside Harris’s office. Joe Colmen watched this spectacle with amusement. “What is this?” he called out. “Boy’s Nation?”

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