Loret Miller Ruppe’s Speech
March 1-3, 1996
WHAT A GREAT HONOR to be here with all my fellow Directors — John Dellenback, who always warned me never to threaten to resign; Kevin O’Donnell, who has always given to Peace Corps; and Jack Hogan, who never lets anyone land a glove on Peace Corps. I am grateful to every Director. All of them helped me. First in line was Sargent Shriver, the Director of Directors — a man always with a vision.
The Peace Corps is needed now more than ever. It is our nation’s greatest peace-building machine, which serves overseas and then brings it all back home. Charlie McCormick is here from Save the Children, as well as other great private volunteer organizations. And Senator Nancy Kassebaum, a returned Peace Corps Volunteer mother and a strong supporter, who just flew back from Africa, visiting eight countries in ten days, flying commercial with one staff person just like Sargent Shriver in the ’60s. Yes, many public servants are still public servants.
This agency’s budget has less in purchasing power than when Sargent left it in the ’60s. In 1981 it was listed in the 150 Account under “miscellaneous.” We changed that. Its budget was less than the military marching band. We changed that. In 1983, an official State Department document listed us as the “Peach Corps.” I said, “I hope that doesn’t mean they will cut us to the pit.”
We took Peace Corps out of the pit of politics and made it non-partisan. It must always signify Americans pulling together for peace. We started the African Food Initiative, Women In Development, and the Leadership for Peace Campaign. All this happened not just because of me, as any Director of Peace Corps will tell you, but because of a host of heavenly people. Thanks to my great family who encouraged me and let me work unreservedly. Phil, my valiant husband who stood by me and never once said he was tired of hearing each day for 3,103 days about the Peace Corps. He supported Peace Corps while in Congress and gave me much valuable advice.
All my gallant staff, Gaylen Sue Barbour, David Scotten, who were incredible workers, Area Directors, Country Directors, all those dedicated faces I grew to love and revere, and our overseas host country nationals, the backbone of Peace Corps all these years. All of you from the ’80s, I thank you. I thank all of you from the ’60s and ’70s whose shoulder we stood on, like Father Ted Hesburgh, Bill Josephson, Harris Wofford, and Alex Shakow.
I also want to thank President Reagan for appointing me to the best job in Washington, and for a Congress who supported us all those years. I’d also like to thank all our returned Peace Corps Volunteers there such as Senator Christopher Dodd, Congressmen Tom Petri, Tony Hall, Chris Shays, and so many who supported us as if they were returned Volunteers, such as Senators Mark Hatfield, Daniel Inouye, Alan Cranston, Dennis DeConcini, Congressmen David Obey, Jim Leach, John Porter, Albert Wynn, Silvio Conte, Dante Fascell, Bill Lehman, Howard Wolpe and many more.
We should also thank Barbara Bush, who traveled to Ghana for the 20th anniversary of the Peace Corps, and her husband, President George Bush, who always visited volunteers. A real surge in funds came as Paul Coverdell pushed for the Peace Corps, and he continues to do so.
I would like to say the surge continued. But you all know what is happening now. The Peace Corps must be ever more relevant, as Sargent says, in this post-Cold War world.
We must make it happen. We should strive for ten thousand Volunteers at least! But it won’t happen unless we have a plan to educate the newer Members of Congress and the Administration, get our story out to the American public, coordinate with young idealistic Americans and the churches and the families of our Volunteers. To grow stronger, we need the National Peace Corps Association to rival A.A.R.P. and the V.F.W.
In 1983, I was invited to the White House for the state visit of Prime Minister Ratu Mara of Fiji. Everyone took their seats around this enormous table—President Reagan, Vice President Bush, Caspar Weinberger, the rest of the Cabinet, with the Prime Minister and his delegation, and myself. They talked about world conditions, sugar quotas, nuclear free zones. The President then asked the Prime Minister to make his presentation. A very distinguished gentleman, he drew himself up and said, “President Reagan, I bring you today the sincere thanks of my government and my people.” Everyone held their breath and there was total silence. “For the men and women of the Peace Corps who go out into our villages, who live with our people.” He went on and on. I beamed. Vice President Bush leaned over afterwards and whispered, “What did you pay that man to say that?”
A week later, the Office of Management and Budget presented the budget to President Reagan with a cut for the Peace Corps. President Reagan said, “Don’t cut the Peace Corps. It’s the only thing I got thanked for last week at the State Dinner.” The Peace Corps budget went up. Vice President Bush asked kiddingly again, “What did you pay?”
Well, we know one thing: It isn’t for pay that Volunteers give their blood, their sacred honor. I can never forget those who died while I was Director. Let us never forget those who have given their lives or were disabled in service. I can never forget the sweat, the tears, the frustrations, the best efforts, and the successes of thousands of Peace Corps Volunteers. I stand in awe and with the deepest respect. I always thought I could be a Volunteer until I went out and met them.
How proud Phil and I are to be parents of a Volunteer, Loret Ruppe, here tonight, and parents-in-law of her husband Peter Parsons. They both served in Nepal. Can you imagine being in the Peace Corps with your mom as Director and having her very same name? That took real courage. Thank you Loret, you handled it brilliantly. Thanks to my nephew and niece, Robert and Sparky Rosenberger, who served in Burundi in the ’80s, and my cousin Julia Polk who is in Sri Lanka right now.
Thank God for the 7,000 Volunteers who are out there right now as we sit here. Mark Gearan has the high honor and great responsibility, just like each Director we honor here tonight has had, to support, protect, and defend the Peace Corps. Mark, our best wishes and strong support go with you.
I ended many speeches in the ’80s and now tonight once more with this: Peace, the beautiful five-letter word we all say we crave and pray for is up for grabs in the ’90s. A question must be answered above and beyond this special forum: Is peace simply the absence of war? Or is peace the absence of the conditions that bring on war, the conditions of hunger, disease, poverty, illiteracy, and despair?
When 50 percent of the children die in a village before they are five; when women walk miles for water and then search for wood to cook by; when farmers leave their villages where there are no jobs to flock to cities where there are no jobs; when neighbors ethnically cleanse their neighbors, then let’s face it, America, the world is not at peace.
And here at home, when 50 percent of our children live below the poverty level in many of our cities, when homeless abound on our streets, when our nation’s capital is bankrupt and our schools require metal detectors, racial tensions abound and immigrant-bashing and downsizing terrorizes loyal workers, then, let’s face it, America, we are not at peace.
The Peace Corps family must respond again to “Ask not what your country can do for you, rather ask what you can do for your country.” And today, in our world, it is, as President Kennedy said, the “towering task.” We can do it.