Mad Men Of The Peace Corps: Padraic Kennedy Goes To Washington, Part II
Pat was driving to D.C. when he heard on the car radio that JFK had signed the executive order creating the Peace Corps. It was March 1, 1961. He stepped on the gas and reached Washington that night. He started to work at the Peace Corps the next day.
There was no specific job, however. There were no jobs. There were 12 or so people working for the new agency: Sarge, Maryann Orlando, Sally Bowles, Nancy Gore, Mitzi Mallina. Warren Wiggins, Charlie Nelson, Gordon Boyce, Al Sims, Al Meisel, Ed Bayley, and Harris Wofford.
“Wofford was dividing his time between the Peace Corps and the White House,” Kennedy recalls. “He interviewed me and he kept yawning in my face. I knew he was important; I’d heard about him on the campaign. He was close to Shriver. And I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’ve had it. I’m boring him to death.’
Pat wasn’t boring Wofford, it was because Wofford was working eighteen-hour days in two jobs.
Not having any office furniture in the few rooms of the ‘peace corps’ in the Maiatico Building, Pat took it upon himself to do a little ‘midnight requistioning’ from the AID offices in the same building. It was easy, he said, as the AID people were gone by 5:00 p.m. and the new Peace Corps folks worked half the night.
His first job was answering mail. There were thousands of letters stacked up by then from people wanting to become Volunteers. As the building became organized, he went onto become the sole training officer for several months, and help to set up the first training programs, which were to Latin America and Africa.
Kennedy had never been to Africa, nor had anyone else. In fact, he wasn’t sure the exact geographical location of Ghana and Nigeria (first countries to get PCVs). Kennedy started to find “Africanists” on U.S. campuses and invited them to D.C. for a week of brainstorming.
David Apter came in from Berkeley; Gray Cowan from Columbia; Sinclair Drake from Roosevelt University in Chicago; Robert Lystad from Johns Hopkins. They set up the Ghana I training program at Berkeley.
Six weeks later, in mid-August 1, 1961, Ghana I was ready for Ghana. “Here today, Ghana tomorrow.” the PCV chanted. Arriving in Accra, after having met President Kennedy at the White House, and having partied most of the night at the Ghana Embassy in D.C., to be greeted by Ghanian officials on the tarmac, Kennedy recalled what the Africanists professors had told him when training began for the Ghana PCVs. It couldn’t be done in seven weeks. The Peace Corps would need two years to get the Volunteers ready for Africa they told him. But for Pat Kennedy it had only six and a half months since Lem Billings had called from the White House Lincoln bedroom, waking him up on a cold Wisconsin night and tell him, yes, there was going to be a Peace Corps and Sarge Shriver wanted to interview him.
His first real job at the Peace Corps was as a Trainer. It was the best job he ever had, Pat would tell Coates Redmon years later when she interviewed him for her book on the agency. “You were in on everything as a Trainer; you did everything,” Pat said. “You had total contact with the Volunteers, total contact with the universities who were doing the training, contact with the embassies in Washington, contact with the host country officials. You were the center of all activity. And it never got any better than that.”
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Thanks for this series, John! A small matter–was the PC in the Maiatico building on March 1? I thought they were at the Mayflower for a while before they moved into 806. I think I sent my application to 1000 Connecticut Avenue in March. . I’m not certain about this but thought you might know when they actually started at Maiatico.
By the way, you know that building also had housed the Marshall Plan
When I was in PPA in mid-90’s I met with an older gent who was trying to get the newly renovated Maiatico building to put up a plaque in honor of PC and MP and I got Carol to sign a support letter. I don’t beleive it ever happened. Resistance by the owners..
Maureen, I don’t know if they had physically moved to the Maiatico by March 1. My guess is that they had, and that Warren Wiggins had gotten a few room from the Point Four people. As you know, AID wasn’t in operation then; it was in the beginning stages.
Several people that I know want to put a plaque up on the building as the ‘birthplace’ for the Peace Corps. It might take help from the Peace Corps Director, and others, to make it happen in time for the 50th. That is a cause you could lead, living as you do in D.C.
Last Fall, The WashPost did a feature on Columbia, the new town half way between Washington and Baltimore developed by the urban futurist Baltimore developer Jim Rouse in the late 60’s. The article also featured and lauded Pad Kennedy who served as the City Manager for over 35 years..
Great idea about a plaque at the new Maiatico, I can assist Maureen to lead a group in DC to get this done. Not to worry, in Peace Corps fashion we can have it installed in the middle of the night!!!
Hi, Dennis, like your spirit about the plaque. I think that’s what it would probably take! Can’t turn to such a campaign for a while yet, too many other projects, but let’s talk about it sometime. email me at firstname.lastname@example.org