The Man Who First Said 'Peace Corps'

John Peter Grothe died on Saturday, June 16th in Los Altos, California from brain injury caused by a fall. He was 81. Peter was an earlymain and important person in the world of the Peace Corps. He lived a long life, and had made accomplishments, but what he was most proud of was a memo he wrote back in early 1960s that gave the Peace Corps its name.

At the time, he told me, he was just a kid working for Senator Hubert H. Humphrey and drafted a memo for the senator that included the name Peace Corps in an idea floating around Official Washington, the idea of sending young people overseas, not to fight, but to help others.

A lot of people disliked the term: Peace Corps, thinking it was too military, but Humphrey ran with it, and when he lost to Kennedy, he gave the idea to Kennedy who introduced the concept to the world at the Cow Palace speech in California a week before the election. Peter was in the Cow Palace that night and heard his words–the Peace Corps–being spoken by the future President of the United States. He said it was one of the great thrills of his life.

After the election, Grothe would work for a short period of time with the agency as the Deputy Director of the U.N. Division of United Nations and Internatinal Agency Programs. That office, by the way, was run by Alice Gilbert, one of the few  women to hold a senior position at the Peace Corps.

After the Peace Corps, Peter had a long and distinguished career as an academic. For the past 31 years he has been an Adjunct Professor at the Graduate School of International Policy Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS). He taught Cross-cultural Communications and American Politics and was the Director of International Student Programs. Prior to coming to MIIS he was at San Jose State University, Odense University in Denmark, and State University of New York, Stony Brook. He was a Visiting Research Scholar in Sweden and Norway and he lectured in over 51 countries, 26 of those for the U.S. Information Agency.

Grothe was the author of To Win the Minds of Men — a Study of the Propaganda War in East Germany and wrote numerous scholarly articles in the American Political Science Review, Western Political QuarterlyNew York Times,  Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, and San Francisco Chronicle. He served with the American Field Service as an adviser, leader and volunteer.

Neil Boyer (Ethiopia 1962-64; Peter Grothe and Jack Hood Vaugh, Second Peace Corps Director at the Staff Reunion September 2011

Neil Boyer (Ethiopia 1962-64; Peter Grothe and Jack Hood Vaughn, Second Peace Corps Director, at the Staff Reunion September 2011

Also, over the years he made a financial commitment to enable 145 highly qualified international and minority students to pursue their education. If you like you might  honor Peter’s memory by making a donation to the “Peter Grothe Scholarship Fund for Women in Developing Countries.” Checks may be mailed to: MIIS Institutional Advancement Office 460 Pierce St. Monterey, CA 93940

 One small personal story about Peter. When we met at the Peace Corps HQ in 1996, long after his career at the agency, he asked me where I had been a PCV and we talked about the early staff members he knew from those years, Harris Wofford, of course, and the famous Jane Campbell, and Ed Corboy, the Admen Officer in Addis Ababa. Then he mentioned that on the drive in from the airport he had had an Ethiopian taxi driver.

I remarked, as we walked to the elevators, that there were quite a few Ethiopian taxi drivers in D.C. 

Peter said that he had a habit of asking taxi drivers where they were from, and then asking them how to say goodbye and thank you in their language  and when he would got out of their cab he would thank them in their language. It was his small gesture, he said, of cross culture understanding. 

Then the Peace Corps elevator came and we shook hands and said goodbye and he got on and smiling nicely he waved and just before the door closed he said to me in Amharic.

Dehna hunu. Ameseghinallehu.

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