Mad Man Jules Pagano
Jules Pagano was not a Mad Man, though he could have played one on the t.v. show. Yes, he smoked. God, they all smoked! And drank! And partied! Jules was more of a character actor than a Leading Man at the early Peace Corps and spent his years there as Chief of the Division of Professional and Technical Affairs. (Yes, Virginia, they did have stupid titles like that even in the ’60s.)
Jules had a breezy, laid-back, amusing, and charming persona. He was like great poetry: there was more than one level of meaning to Jules. And like a good union organizer (which he had been) he held his cards close to his chest. If anyone could draw to an inside straight, it was Jules Pagano.
I knew Jules best for a short period in the spring of 1965 when he organized the unions segment for the first Conference of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers held at the State Department. I linked up with him as my father had spent nearly thirty years working in the steel mills of Gary, Indiana. Union workers was my turf. And Jules and I were a natural fit.
I’m not sure how or why Jules got to the Peace Corps. He was always the ‘odd man’ out, it seems, sitting at the back of the room, in one of those chairs up against the wall, making funny, off-handed comments about the other Mad Men at the conference table. He kept all of us (RPCVs) in stitches the way he pierced the bloated egos of the Mad Men who clustered like dogs in heat around Shriver.
The thing about Jules was that he never attempted to impress us, not that the RPCVs were easily impressed, filled as we were with our own bloated self-importance for having been there, the first PCVs back from the Third World, Kennedy’s Original Kids. God, we, too, were insufferable.
Jules was amused by us all. He had been there, done that, before any of us had ever heard about the plight of the underdeveloped world.
Coming out of WWII, Jules was the first veteran to enroll in the Great Books program at St. John’s College in Annapolis. He waited tables in Annapolis and ran a mimeograph machine to keep alive, and finished college in 3 ½ years by going to school through the summer months.
It was at St. John’s College that he became interested in adult education and decided that he could follow his passion in the labor movement.
So he went to work in 1948 for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. While working in Virginia, he also got involved with the telephone workers and helped them organize into the Communications Workers of America.
Working in Richmond, he was the CWA’s education director, public relations director, research director and director of legislation. And as he said, he also directed people to the public bathrooms. All of this ‘directing’ got the attention of the national organization of CWA, and he was brought to D.C. to become the union’s first education director.
Jules believed in adult education, and the CWA was a natural for him. He established eleven training centers at universities throughout the nation and began sending local officials through training program, everyone from shop stewards to presidents.
By 1955, he was on a Fulbright grant to study problems of labor education in Britain and finished his year by writing a report for the Fulbright Committee on adult education in the UK. Next, he went to Central and South America for the CWA to develop international training program, bringing representatives from 16 Latin American countries to Washington and putting them through a three-month program.
It was then that he found the Peace Corps, or the Peace Corps found him, and he was “on board” as they use to say in the early days, by December, 1961.
The truth is I never knew exactly what Jules Pagano did at the Peace Corps. True, he was always around, slipping smoothly in and out of other people’s offices, always looking dapper, always with time to chat, time to tell another story. For whatever the incident or occasion, he always had a story that was a bank shot off an event that was about to happen.
He seemed to us RPCVs not to have any authority at all at the agency. He wasn’t one of those Mad Men pushing themselves forward to be at the front of the room, but whenever there was a chance meeting of Shriver and Jules in the hallways of the old Maiatico Building at 806 Connecticut Avenue, Shriver would stop his customary charging about to talk to Jules. Shriver, we could see, genuinely liked the guy.
Years later, when I ran into Pagano in Washington, D.C., long after our time in the Peace Corps, Jules was wearing in his lapel one of those small buttons Shriver gave to those of us who were in the Peace Corps during his five years at the agency.
Of all the organizations that Jules had worked with and devoted his life to, from the CWA to the AFL-CIO, from the International Ladies Garment Workers Union to the Fulbright Scholars, it was Shriver’s pin from his Peace Corps years that he was wearing.
I was going to ask him why, but I know why. He loved the Peace Corps.
I just learned that Dr. Jules O. Pagano passed away at his home Sunday, July 14 in Jamesville, New York.He was two days shy of his 88th birthday.
His professional career spanned more than a half-century. After working with the Peace Corps, and after the passage of the Higher Education Act in 1965, Pagano was named the first Director of Adult Education Division at the US Office of Education. His responsibilities included administering Title One of the Higher Education Act of 1965, the Adult Education Act of 1966, and the Civil Defense Adult Education Program.
Leaving the government, Pagano began a long career in higher education. He served as Dean and Associate Vice President of Florida International University. In 1977, he was selected as President of the Massachusetts Board of Regional Community Colleges where he appointed the first black and first woman community college President in the state. In 1979, Dr. Pagano was recruited by Bard College in New York to serve as Vice President and Provost of Simmons Rock. He believed that the student – the learner – is at the heart of the education process and that learning to learn is more important than learning the facts.
In 1981, Pagano returned to government when Gov. Hugh Carey of NY appointed him Chair of the NYS Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board. Following his work in New York, Jules traveled to California where he served as President of Saybrook Institute, a graduate school and research center. He then returned after a short retirement to Washington, DC where he accepted a position as Vice President of the American Income Life Insurance Company and Executive Director of AIL’s Labor Advisory Board.
Jules was born on July 16, 1925 in Newfield, New Jersey. He attended St. John’s College in Annapolis. He studied at the University of London as a Senior Fulbright scholar in 1955. He later served as Director of the St. John’s College Alumni Board from 1984 to 1988.
His family held a private memorial service in Syracuse and will be holding a public memorial service on September 16 in Washington DC. The family has asked that contributions be made in his name to the Syracuse Friends of Chamber Music or to the CNY Food Bank. For a guest book, please visit: www.SCHEPPFAMILY.com