Mad Man Charlie Peters Comes To Washington, Part Two

Charlie Peters was born in Charleston, West Virginia, and enlisted in the Army in ’44. He was an infantryman until he broke his back in a training accident. Discharged, he enrolled himself in Columbia and earned a B.A. in humanities and an M.A. in English, then he went onto get a law degree at Virginia, got married, and returned to West Virginia and went to work in his father’s law firm.

From that launching point, he was appointed clerk of the House of Delegates Judiciary Committee, and in 1960, was elected to the House as a Democrat. When he went to work for the Peace Corps in 1961 it was with the idea of staying only three months, and then returning to the politics of West Virginia.

But this is what happened instead.  

Kenny O’Donnell had called Shriver and told him about Peters. Shriver called Moyers and told him that the word on Peters was that he was a miracle worker and a genius, having won West Virginia for JFK. The word spread on the fifth floor of the Maiatico Building that Charlie Peters was arriving to work at the agency. And Charlie Peters was a miracle worker and a genius. The excitement raced through the building. Everyone was keyed up at the arrival of this ‘great white hope’ from West Virginia.

Knowing how important Charlie Peters was, Bill Moyers sent his assistant, the lovely Nancy Gore, daughter of Tennessee’s Senator Albert Gore, older sister of Al, out to the bank of elevators to wait and greet the man “who carried West Virginia for Jack.” She was to bring back to Moyers office. Moyers then would excort the gentlemen genius  into see Shriver.

Nancy Gore rushed to the  bank of elevators on the fifth floor, the power floor of the  Maiatico Building. Nancy was nervous. She had heard all the talk about  Charlie Peters coming to the Peace Corps and half expected he’d be someone on the order of John Wayne. She kept waiting as the elevator doors opened and closed, opened and closed, on that busy afternoon. But there was no stranger, no John Wayne certainly. In fact the only stranger to step off the elevator was a short, vaguely roly-poly man with racoonlike eyes and eyebrows, and cigarette ashes dripping off his tie.

She kept scanning the other men arriving on the fifth floor, searching for the hero of Charleston, when the little man timidly asked her for the directions to Moyer’s office. Nancy stared down at him. My God, she thought: this was Charlie Peters!

Shriver offered Charlie the job of a consultant in the general counsel’s office as soon as they met, a job which Peters would describes as “a position of almost pathetic obscurity when you consider the structure of a bureaucracy. I thought I was a patronage case pure and simple–you know, the poor idiot who had worked hard in some essential capacity. I figured Sarge had been ordered to take me. But what the hell, I thought. I had landed where I wanted to land. I had my foot in the Peace Corps door. It was a beginning.”

And Charlie was right. It was a beginning. But only a beginning for Peters at the Peace Corps.

[End of Part Two]

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  • John, I’m really enjoying this series on Charlie. He was one who was able to make all of us RPCVs feel comfortable and worthwhile no matter what we did.

  • Nancy Gore shared an office with Sally Bowles, the daughter of Chet Bowles, Kennedy’s ambassador to India. A sign on the outside of the office read, “Gore and Bowls and war no more!”
    Every weekday afternoon, little Al Gore would bring his homework to Nancy and Sally’s office. After finishing it, Blair Butterwort [RPCV Ghana I], who had just been kicked out of Princeton but all the same hitchhiked a grunt job on the Peace Corps staff before going overseas as a Vol., had Al xerox documents or run outside and fetch pizza.

    P.S. Sally Bowles was one of the unsung heroines of the early Peace Corps. She deserves a page in the Mad[Womans]series.

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