Marjorie Confronts William Sloane Coffin, Part 6

At Idlewild Tim, Ruth, and Betty convince Margorie to go to Puerto Rico. Michelmore agreed to go for a ‘few days’ and Tim informed Shriver, telling Sarge he would keep in touch. He boarded the plane with Ruth Olson and Marjorie, thinking that once he was on the plane to Puerto Rico, he’ll be okay.

Tim was wrong.

On the plane, Adams recognized Carl Mydans. At the time Mydans was a famous photojournalist, one of the giants for Life Magazine. Adams thinks: this is not a coincidence. With Mydans was a beautiful young woman reporter, Marjorie Byers. They are in first class. Of course, this is Life Magazine.

When they are airbourne, Carl walks back from first class to talk to Tim who is riding in coach. [Of course, he works for the Peace Corps.] “Carl is such a gentlemen,” Tim says, “I finally relented and we were able to negotiate terms under which Mydans and Marjorie Byers could get an interview with Michelmore after we all arrived in Puerto Rico.”

When they arrived in San Juan they are met by Rafael Sancho-Bonet, then the Peace Corps’ overall administrator in Puerto Rico [later he would be the CD in Chile.] Rafael drives them to meet William Sloane Coffin, the director of the camp. Coffin is famous, especially in his own mind, and had been a chaplain at Yale, later an antiwar spokesman, later still, the senior rector at Riverside Church in New York City. In the Peace Corps Coffin was well liked, and well hated.

That day he was pissed off that Michelmore had been “foisted on him” by Shriver. He did not want her in his camp. [Of course, Marjorie didn’t want to be there either.]

Coffin position was, “I want it made clear that this girl is going to be treated just like everybody else here. Up before dawn, rappel down the dam, do drownproofing, conquer the obstacle course, etcetera.”

Marjorie wasn’t going to have any of it. “I will do this for a couple days to accommodate the Peace Corps,” she tells all of them, “but I view it as an unnecesarily punitive action, and there is a limit. If I am not permitted to leave very, very soon, I will leave on my own.”

“Marjorie wasn’t kidding,” recalled Adams. “She was ladylike, but tough. And she just wasn’t going to take any shit from Coffin.”

Something had to be done, and it was, by Ruth Olson, Rafael Sancho-Bonet, and Tim Adams. They would handle this ‘incident’ for the Peace Corps. They got Michelmore, to use early Peace Corps terminology, ‘in, up, and out’ of Arecibo with in two days.

Meanwhile back in Nigeria, another part of the “preposterous postcard incident” as Tim Adams termed it, was taking place. In Ibadan, between the PCVs and Nigerian students, there were real problems.


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  • This is not an important point but I recall that Marjorie Byers was the Life reporter who covered our “wilderness” weekend when we were at Penn State that summer of 1961. I have a picture of her -not sure where the description of her as a “beautiful young reporter” came from. An ordinary-looking woman but not a beauty–like most of us! I also recall hearing about the post card from a volunteer leader when we were on our way to our sites in the Philipppines. We thought that we allmight be leaving the Philippines just as we had finally gotten close to our assignments. The talk was that it could be “the end of the Peace Corps.”

  • Maureen–I never saw Marjorie Byers. It was Tim who told me she was a “beautiful young reporter” and maybe he was just being nice. As you know, Tim Adams was a nice guy.

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