Ken Hill Remembers Michael Sher
Ken Hill has had a long and impressive history with the Peace Corps. A PCV in Turkey back in 1965-67, he was on the HQ staff in DC from 1968-74, then CD in Russia Far East, and Bulgaria, and Macedonia from 1994-98; Chief of Operation in Europe and Asia, 1999-2000. He served at HQ again in 2001 as the Chief of Staff, and was head of the National Peace Corps Association from 2004-06. Today, he is retired but spends some of his time on the Board of Directors of Friends of Turkey.
In the summer of 2002 he organized the first Peace Corps Staff Reunion that honored Sarge Shriver. It was one of Sarge’s last public appearances. Here is a photograph from that event, it is Sarge speaking to the hundred of staffers who came back to the Women’s Museum to thank the man that made it all possible.
One of the people who worked on getting Sarge to the Women’s Museum passed away a few month back. His name is Michael Sher and today there is a memorial service for Michael at the New York Bar Association. Recently, Ken Hill sent me this note about his connection to Michael, and Ken gave me permission to reprint it. It is a note that in many ways touches on all our lives and our connections with Sarge and with each other.
John, I’ve been sitting on this for awhile and find myself really affected by Michael Sher’s passing. We crossed paths in the early days of organizing for the first Peace Corps staff reunion in 2001. When he heard of it, Michael enthusiastically “inserted” himself into our efforts. Initially I must admit that I wondered who the hell he was and why he was so pushy. He insisted that Sarge be there at the reunion and that we should expect attendance closer to five or six hundred instead of the initial 300 or so we had anticipated.
Naturally, he was right. “9/11” caused us to postpone the gathering from 2001 to 2002, but as our planning went forward, Michael used his amazing list of contacts to engage hundreds more of the Peace Corps staff alums. We had to change venues three times, finally settling on the Women’s Museum of the Arts which would accommodate up to 1500 people. On the evening of the event, we had sold 800 tickets and then sold 200 more at the door. We “comped” about 100 folks so the final attendance was probably about 1100.
Thank God for Michael Sher. This was the last Peace Corps event where Sarge was pretty aware of his surroundings. John Chromy and Sarge’s family shepherded Sarge all day to make sure he got his naps and nourishment. We had purchased a “pool hall highchair”–another of Michael’s suggestions–so Sarge could sit that evening at eye level with the hundreds of folks who formed a line to say hello to Sarge, shake his hand once last time, and thank him.
I last spoke with Michael about a year ago when we discussed organizing another Peace Corps staff reunion for the 50th anniversary of Peace Corps. Quite a guy, Michael! A lovely person! Frankly, I’m shocked at the impact his death has had on me. One of those ‘aging’ things, I guess.
I’m organizing now a Staff Reunion for the 50th anniversary, in September of next year, 2011. I plan on dedicating it to Michael and a few of the other early Peace Corps luminaries who created the Peace Corps virtually out of nothing back in the winter of 1961 and gave us, and the whole world, something of more than just value.
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Ken – That was such a beautiful tribute. I also was surprised that I have found myself thinking of Michael often after he died. He was so unassuming and quiet but what a force.
I met him first at Sarge’s house when I was at a Best Buddies Gala Planning meeting with Eunice. When I walked in to their house, it rang of Sarge’s laughter and big voice. Michael was there for the weekend to be with Sarge as the family and staff got ready for the annual gala at their house. I spent the next half hour with Sarge and Michael of course laughing and having a great time irregardless of what we talked about. We had dinner together – delightful conversation as I observed the appreciative connection between Sarge and Michael. Michael was asked by Eunice to spend nights at their house when Sarge might otherwise be alone due to Eunice’s travel and activities.
I had worked with Michael for the Shriver Awards. As Ken said, Michael’s Peace Corps connections were endless, and he was more than happy to contact everyone. If it were for Sarge, Michael would work tirelessly with no end in sight and feel honored.
The last time I saw Michael was at the previewing of “American Idealist”, the documentary of Sarge’ s life. Of course we spoke of how we wanted to organize some sort of celebration for Sarge at the 50th.
We exchanged a number of emails and phone conversations over the past two years, and I saw Michael on TV at Eunice’s funeral, and I thought I should call him. I did call him, and he called back, but I could not take the call since I was visiting a friend in MN, and then he died. I felt a loss – bigger than my own – a loss for the Peace Corps, for Sarge’s legacy and for all those whose lives he touched in his gently but profound way.
One story of Sarge that Michael shared:
While working at the Peace Corps and Michael was with Sarge driving in a car together, he was always asked by Sarge to bring two briefcases – one with all the mail that needed to be responded to and the other briefcase was to put the just responded mail into. Every time Michael drove with Sarge, he always read his letters with him and created responses – not to let an unproductive minute go by and to make sure he always responded to everyone.