Panic at Idlewild, Part 4

Tim Adams arrived at Idlewild Airport to a terminal overwhelmed with press people carrying tape recorders, cameras and microphones. Michelmore and Ware were about to touch down on a BOAC flight and Adams saddled up to a group of reporters and asked innocently, “Who’s coming in?” Adams thought it might be Grace Kelly, then due back in the States. “It’s that Peace Corps girl,” someone said and Tim’s heart dropped.

Slipping away from the reporters, Adams pulled out his official government Peace Corps ID and got past the customs officials and when the BOAC flight landed pulled Marjorie and Dick Ware into an empty room. The reporters, however, could see them on the other side of Customs, see Tim frantically telephoning Shriver at the Peace Corps Headquarters. Tim asked what he should do. Shriver told him, “Tim, I don’t want the press talking to Michelmore.”

Adams told Shriver that there was no way Marjorie couldn’t talk to the reporters. When Shriver didn’t respond, Tim took it as an opportunity to hang up. With Marjorie and Dick Ware behind him, Adams want out to handle the press conference.

Grabbing a chair, he jumped up and told the swarming reporters that Miss Michelmore was very tired, and that she would take only a few questions. Reporters were given five minutes. T.V. and radio got another five minutes. It worked. That night, ET Marjorie Michelmore was charming, attractive, and normal, and it was all over the next’s days papers and on the nightly news.

By now at Idlewild a half dozen more Peace Corps HQ people had arrived, all having been dispatched from D.C. These were some of the famous original staffers at the agency: Ruth Olson operated as crisis manager for the occasion. She was well versed for the job. She had come to the Peace Corps in the first week of the agency from years of working in the military duing World War II; Betty Harris, a former journalist and political operative from Texas was on hand; Tom Matthews had just arrived back from Bermuda. And also arriving unannounced and unexpected, sneaking throught the press of people, was Marjorie’s boyfriend from Boston, an NAACP lawyer.

It was here that Marjorie received her handwritten note from JFK. I don’t know how that was arranged, my guess it was done by Bill Moyers, the rising start of the next Johnson administration, and at age 27, the Associate Director for Public Affairs for the Peace Corps. Moyers would go onto becoming Shriver’s deputy director.

When the press cleared out, Tom Mathews headed back to Washington to brief Shriver on what had happened. Tim Adams and the others got tickets for the next flight to Puerto Rico. This was the plan worked out in Washington.

There was, however, a new problem for the Peace Corps. Marjorie Michelmore didn’t want to go to the Peace Corps’ Outward Bound camp in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. She had heard–via the Peace Corps Volunteer network that Camp Arecibo was “all Tarzan”– and that wasn’t her style. Tim was back on the phone to Shriver in D.C.

[Part 4]

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