Nigeria’s First Peace Corps Staff (Part Two)
By the time John Todd arrived in November to conduct a school survey of the Eastern Region, the Michelmore incident was closed.
Born in Austin, Texas, raised in Memphis, Tenn., Todd graduated from McKinley Technical High School in Washington, D.C. in 1940, just in time for the war. Trained in Texas as an aerial navigator, he flew 36 combat missions over Europe before he was sent back to Texas an athletic officer for the Central Flying Training Command, before he returned to Europe as squadron navigator for the 33rd Fighter Group (P-51s).
He married his childhood sweetheart, Frances Atkinson of Washington. “The war was over. I was young with no particular plans. They were asking people to extend their terms of service so I just stayed in for another year—at Neubiberg air base outside Munich.”
Later he would serve in Korea and when after that war, in 1956, he received his B.S. in physical education from George Washington, and then his master in secondary education from GW.
He next joined ICA, participated in its first overseas officers training program and was posted to Libya as an educational program assistant. He held this job and another—adviser on physical education and youth activities, until he joined the Peace Corps in April, 1962.
That was after he had completed the survey of the Eastern Region, and Brent Ashabranner, whom he had come to know well in Libya, had asked him if he didn’t want to join the Peace Corps permanently.1962.
Todd made the transfer without returning to Washington and he arrived in Lagos just in time replacing Bill Hintz who had been sent to Monrovia on 90 days temporary duty to negotiate the first Peace Corps program in Liberia.
The job, as it had developed with Hintz in the chair, was equivalent to Associate Representative for Management, and this was the way it was viewed by Representative Samuel Dewitt Proctor, who arrived in Lagos on February 7, 1962.
Raised in Norfolk, Proctor graduated in 1952 from Virginia Union University. Ordained to the ministry of the Baptist Church in the following year, he served as pastor of the Pond Street Church in Providence, R.I. before deciding to continue his education.
He took graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania, a Bachelor of Divinity degree from Crozer Theological Seminary and additional studies at Yale Divinity School. In 1949, he was named professor of religion and ethics at Virginia Union. In 1950, he received a Doctor of Theology degree from Boston University. In 1953, he was promoted to Vice-president of Virginia Union and two years later, at the age of 33, he became the youngest college president in the South.
In 1961, from Virginia Union he moved to the presidency of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College, where Director Shriver sought him out. He came to the Peace Corps on December 26, 1961, with an 18-month leave from his college.
A superb administrator, Proctor regarded the job of Representative, in part, as an administrative challenge. On September 12, 1962, for example, the 80 Volunteers of the fourth Nigerian program arrived in Lagos. They finished their in-country training “and we started the machinery rolling to send them to their locations all over Nigeria,” Proctor reported. “Everything went off like clockwork and for the first time in several weeks, five minutes of calm descended on the office in Lagos.
“We were just starting to congratulate ourselves when the telephone rang. The Volunteers headed for the Northern Region would not be leaving after all—a bridge had washed out and no trains would be running for the nest five days.
“I directed the Volunteers back to their quarters with instructions not to unpack. I called Nigeria Airways and said I wanted an airplane. A whole airplane? they asked me. Yes, I said, a whole airplane. Well, they said, sometime next week—will that be all right?
“I didn’t argue; I got the telephone number of the president of the airline. He got me a plane, the Volunteers were driven to the airport and as they took off, I looked at my watch. It had been four hours since the telephone ad said they would not be going.”
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