Picking On Peace Corps Staff

Emailing today with an RPCV from Ethiopia, I started to recall the ‘famous’ first staff at the agency and the long-time tradition in the Peace Corps of official boondoggle trips overseas to ‘see’ PCVs, but really were just so the Washington Staff could get out of D.C. and on the government’s dime see something of the Third World.

Theroux wrote about those Visiting Washington Officials in some of his early writings from Malawi. This sort of junket was also captured wonderfully by short-term Peace Corps Evaluator Fletcher Knebel in his 1966 novel on the Peace Corps, The Zinzin Road.

Knebel’s PC/W character was Maureen Sutherland, “…a slim, willowy young woman, stylishly dressed…She wore elongated dark glasses, and a sheaf of black hair fell loosely over one eye. Her skin, as creamy as enameled china, hinted of regular facials and a variety of expensive oils and ointments.”

Sutherland’s character was based on a legendary African Region Desk Officer of the early Sixties who would frequently fly into a West African country for a brief, whirlwind fact-finding trip, which she breezily referred to as a “look/see” when confronting PCVs on the ground.

Knebel described his PC/W official on a visit to Africa–“Miss Sutherland lilted on for half an hour, festively dropping names from Lagos to Washington…she gave a glittering panorama of the world of great affairs, its intrigues, its grand policies and even its illicit loves…She concluded on a pitch of finishing-school breathlessness and looked about brightly as though waiting for applause.”

Ah, those were the days…

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  • Perhaps, we should provide some commentary on Ethiopia staff person Jane Campbell. I do remember her quite well, along with the story of her pet lions.

    Charlie Ipcar
    Ethiopia 1965-68

  • The only person that I saw, other then Sarge Shriver and the evaluator, was Bill Moyers. It was at a reception held by Harris Wofford at the Peace Corps Office, and his and Clair’s house, on the way to Entoto Mountain just outside of Addis. The occasion was the marraige of Bill Doyle, one of my roommates at the time, who taught in the machine shop at the Technical School, to an Armian/Ethiopian woman. I was the best man for Bill; sadly, their infant died seven months after its birth and she died a few years later when Bill was working in Egypt.

    In any case, I had know idea who Bill Moyers was but was quite impressed with his interest in our work. I felt the same way about his interviews over the years as I have watched his exceptional television reporting.

    As I recall, Harris introduced him as either the DD for the Peace Corps, or the Director for Africa, sub-saharan I imagine. Thirteen years later I would serve as the ED for a Nassau County Day Care Planning Council and Sally Moyers was the VP for the board, likely why they selected me. When I returned to Federal service I tendered my resignation to the board president over the phone, sitting at his desk and using his phone.

    I suppose that this is a long way of saying that Ethiopia did not seem to attract many visiting “junketeers,” although I have known my fair share of them working for the government over the years.

  • When I think of how I viewed Peace Corps Staff as a Volunteer I am reminded of a line in the musical, “Fiddler on the Roof,” When a villager asks the Rabbi, “Is there a proper blessing for the Tsar,” the Rabbi intones, “May the Lord bless and keep the Tsar – far away from us!”

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