“Kill the Gringo” Jack Hood Vaughn’s Life Story

“Jack’s life story is at once inspirational and terrifying, such a compelling combination for this modest man who looked like a country doctor and lived like a poster for a Harrison Ford movie.”


Kill the Gringo

Kill the Gringo is the wide-ranging, action-packed memoir of Jack Hood Vaughn, whose career in diplomacy, social advocacy and conservation spanned more than 25 jobs and 11 countries.

A professional boxer during his college years, Jack joined the Marines in 1941, fighting in the battles of Guam and Okinawa during World War II. His rapport with people and facility with language led to a speedy rise in international development in Latin America and Africa where he drew the attention of Vice President Lyndon Johnson during his visit to Senegal in 1961. Three years later, President Johnson appointed Jack ambassador to Panama when violent anti-American riots there led to a severing of diplomatic ties.

As the second director of the Peace Corps, Jack presided over the largest number of volunteers in the organization’s history and the delicate handling of anti-Vietnam fervor among its ranks. After his foreign service career, Jack led the National Urban Coalition and Planned Parenthood during the turbulent late 60’s and early 70’s. A rural development job in Iran ended dramatically with the 1978 revolution, and Jack turned his focus to the environment, advising the Nature Conservancy and founding Conservation International in 1987. Told with Jacks’ humor and humility, his stories reveal an astonishingly varied, lively and distinguished career that lasted 50 years and earned him the nickname Peasant Ambassador.

“I wanted a man down there who would be firm but fair, who knew he was representing me, and who loved the people at the same time.”

—Lyndon Johnson on Jack Vaughn’s Panama appointment

“Jack H. Vaughn [is] a dedicated and gifted public servant, a friend and patriot.”

—Hubert H. Humphrey, Former Vice President of the United State

Jack Vaughn served as director of the Peace Corps, ambassador to Panama and Colombia, and Assistant Secretary of State during the 1960s. After his diplomatic career, Jack moved to the forefront of the most controversial issues of the day, leading both the National Urban Coalition and Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Forced to leave his job in infrastructure development in Iran during the 1978 revolution, Jack began the final phase of his career in conservation, becoming the founding chairman of Conservation International. A professional boxer and World War II veteran, Jack found himself in harm’s way throughout his long career, from planes crashes to muggings and an attempted lynching.

Over the years, Jack Vaughn and I had a number of conversations about his book and how the writing was going. He, unfortunately, did not live long enough to see his life in print. His daughter, Jane, took up the task of publishing her father’s life story. Jane Vaughn Constantineau lives with her family in San Diego. She is a graduate of Williams College and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. JC note.

Kill the Gringo will be in stores on April 11, 2017, but you can preorder the memoir now by emailing: http://www.rarebirdbooks.com/kill-the-gringo-by-jack-vaughn/

Jack photo



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  • I met Jack when I was his escort officer on a visit to Panama not too long after his stay as our ambassador there. A friend at the airport had arranged VIP treatment for him. When I said I could not say who was coming he immediately replied, “Oh, Jack Vaugh.” He was well known by the people and for liking the horse races and the ladies in Panama. Although a boxer and larger than life man, I found him to be rather small. He had a good time on his visit, mainly because he told me he was fine on his own. In other words he did not want someone intruding on his fun.

  • When Henry Scott and i returned from service with Peace Corps Ethiopia in 1965, Henry took a job with PC Washington, a very different scene from being in the Field. I had worked as Scholarship Secretary for the African – American Institute in Addis Ababa , Ethiopia in 1964. I took over from a USIA man and operated out of our house in Addis. The Ethiopian kids first choice was to go to the USA to school; other opportunities were UK, and USSR. With the help of PEace Corps Volunteers, and some people at the University who were starting the Law School, we administered tests sent from AAI in New York, presided over the tests (similar to SAT’s designed for African Students) and it was an exciting time. In DC, some of those students and others from Africa were finding their way around the American culture. Some of the former Ethiopian PCV’s, MArk Himelstein and others, showed up to meet with our Africans. We had some memorable moments to say the least. Washington Post did a story and took my picture. i still have the clipping somewhere. JAck Vaughn wrote me a wonderful congratulatory letter which I kept and still have somwhere. Kudos to him.

  • My first meeting with Jack happened while serving as a PCV in Medellin, Colombia. Do not remember the exact date, but the occasion remains with me. A group of us were with him in the CARE/Peace Corps office in Medellin, just sitting around the room. The single telephone in the office rings…. some one answers it…. the caller asks for Jack Vaughn and to please hold for the President of the USA. In that room, in front of a dozen or so PCVs, Jack takes the call from President Johnson, asking Jack to immediately return to the States for an important new job. I believe Jack was being named to a high level post in the State Dept. Jack’s comment, “I couldn’t take this call in front of a better group of people.” He did not leave immediately, but completed the meeting as we discussed our work – the good, the bad and the ugly.

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