The Peace Corps On Day One: #20 Who Contributed The Most To The Success of the Peace Corps
“The list is long and it is hard to name a few when so many contributors would be left out, so let me just mention one person,” Warren Wiggins said in the winter of ’97 when I asked him who had made the most significant contribution (besides Shriver) to the creation of the Peace Corps. Wiggins went on:
Bill Moyers deserves his special place in Peace Corps history. His work with Shriver to create full bipartisan support in the Congress that first year was critical. His role in the creation of the public service advertising campaign for the Peace Corps created a nationwide citizen constituency. These achievements were of unparalleled important.
Moyers got Young and Rubicam to create ads. Moyers interpreted the Peace Corps to them. And those ads meant that all Americans read or heard on the radio or saw on television three or four good sentences about the Peace Corps. The sentences were that Volunteers worked hard, spoke the language, weren’t paid very much, and represented America overseas. The ad became the third public service ad choice of all editors.
Those Moyers/Young and Rubicam ads solidified in the cultural milieu the message that this was a wonderful, different organization of young people and it was ours, our sons and daughters. When we talk about the Peace Corps, we really don’t talk about the Shrivers or Ruppes; we talk about the Volunteers. We talk about our sons and daughters and nephews and cousins and friends who go abroad and devote two years to helping others and they do it right and it works.
We didn’t know it at the time. We thought the ads might help recruitment. We knew we needed public relations, but we never anticipated the ads would produce a fundamental sea change in building the acceptance of the agency in the minds of Americans. This was critical for the Peace Corps. And it was Bill Moyers who did it.
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What a wonderful and deserved statement. The remarkable thing about Moyers’ signature role then is that he was in his mid-20s. Of course, his meteoric and hyper-instrumental rise was possible only because the agency was built differently than any other new government program, due in large part to Shriver’s and Wiggins’ wisdom. As one of the few people around the 5th floor who were younger than Moyers, I was constantly inspired to work harder and smarter by his example.
In my entire time at the Peace Corps -staff as well as Volunteer -I never heard anyone knock Bill Moyers. He personified the early Peace Corps: good judgment, hard-working, selfless, and a practical idealist.
One of a kind.