A Profile in Citizenship
by Jeremiah Norris (Colombia 1963-64)
It is often commented upon in literary circles that April is the cruelest month. But that has now been challenged by John Coyne’s announcement that he will close his Worldwide web site by the end of March. As one RPCV stated upon hearing this unwelcome news: “You have provided connections, exposure, renewed friendships and endless reminders to all of us of the breadth and depth of our two years living in foreign lands as locals”.
John was one of Peace Corps’ earliest Volunteers, serving in Ethiopia from 1962 to 1964, teaching English at the Commercial School in Addis Ababa. His Country Director was the revered Harris Wofford, one of the founding fathers of Peace Corps itself. After graduating from St. Louis University, John earned a master’s in English at Western Michigan University, then served in the U. S. Air National Guard before joining the Peace Corps.
After returning home, John served in several Peace Corps staff positions: in Washington in the Division of Volunteer Support, as an Associate Director back to the field in Ethiopia, and for five years as manager of the Peace Corps’ New York Recruitment Office.
And somehow he managed to also go on to become the author of more than twenty-nine nonfiction and fiction books, including a number of horror novels, meanwhile his short stories have been collected in “best of” anthologies such as Modern Masters of Horror and The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror.
John is a life-long lover of golf who has edited and written a number of books dealing with this subject, e.g., The Caddie who Knew Ben Hogan, The Caddie Who Played with Hickory and The Caddie who Won the Masters.
And . . . he still found time to be a college professor and college dean! And because there are 24 hours in a day, there was some time set aside for him to co-author three books on alternatives to traditional college education, while publishing articles in dozens of national publications, including Smithsonian, Travel & Leisure, Glamour, Foreign Affairs, Redbook, and Diversion. During what most have been a few coffee breaks, John wrote for the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, and the St. Louis Post Dispatch.
Thus, not only will John be missed by so many RPCVs, but also by highly qualified editors of various publication that once found his submissions of value to their readerships.
Now, then, isn’t this in and of itself a life-time of work for one person? But not for John, after all time can be allocated to fit the day’s routines, making it still possible to give voice to so many returned volunteers via his Worldwide web site. Here, they found a home through which they could publish their short stories; their remembrances of time as Volunteers and its significance to their professional lives; the review of their books, to share all this with a receptive community that had once lived an impossible dream, and to recapture timeless memories of “the way we were.”
Then, the inevitable had to happen when John announced that he would be closing down his Worldwide web site — that was established with Marian Haley Beil (Ethiopia 1962-64) in 1989 — by the end of March. As one viewer wrote: “I always loved opening it up and seeing what was going on with Peace Corps”. Another wrote: “you made contributions to more than the RPCV community — you are the living, breathing, definition of the 3rd Goal; you have done more to bring Peace Corps home to America, you’ve given RPCVs a voice through the website.” And still another commented: “what you have contributed over the decades to the Peace Corps community and the greater public is invaluable, irreplaceable, indispensable, inspiration. In short, more valuable than anything anyone could afford to pay for. You have delivered tens of thousands of hours, seemingly unstoppable dedication — thank you.” A consistent theme from those commenting was: “Say it isn’t so, John”.
In reading through the comments to John’s announcement, one could easily sense that they presaged a sense of loss — no, more a sense of being silenced if their voices no longer could find a home for expression. Over the past year of the covid-19 crisis, there was hardly a word out of PC/W, other than its need to withdraw all Volunteers from the field last March. However, the one voice that was out there on a daily basis for public disclosure on Peace Corps’ past and present activities was John’s Worldwide website, a constant and welcomed reminder that the agency was alive and vibrant through its 3rd Goal.
In that single attribute alone, then, John Coyne’s voice kept alive the most basic concept of the Peace Corps’ ideal, earning him a well-deserved Profile in Citizenship.