The Volunteer Who Became the Voice of Peace Corps — John Coyne (Ethiopia)

 

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.

On the road to visit his Vols

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.

Off to play a round

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.

8/2/2002 – at the RPCV Conference awards ceremony Photo: Don Beil

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.

 

 

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15 Comments

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  • And always, he provides a fabulous way to start the day! I cannot write provided because I live in hope.

  • John – You are a treasure – giving voice and encouragement to all that is Peace Corps with true appreciation of the written word. Careers have been expanded, renewed and fallen with your communication. The Peace Corps has been put on the map – given more substance and value with stories heard around the world – books brought to the attention of not only the Peace Corps community but to a wider literary audience. The past has been brought into the light of day by sharing the lifelong impact of Peace Corps experiences globally – as you write your own horror and fantasy books in between your messianic zeal to keep the grounded reality of the Peace Corps alive and spread far and wide. I remember your cutting edge first books on alternatives to traditional college education while working at Warren Wiggins’s TransCentury which I found so incredibly useful while facilitating Career Roundtables with Dick Irish there. You have been a strong winding fugue that has stealthily constantly played itself throughout the Peace Corps labyrinth of experiences, ideas and visions. You are a legend in your own time. Onward… with deep gratitude.
    Geri Critchley
    geri.critchley@gmail.com
    202-378-6416

  • Terrific summary, captures so well what John has accomplished, and what he has meant to and for Peace Corps. And I assume he will still find ways to continue to contribute over the next 20 years at least. 😎

    By the way, I think John still owns that land rover, and uses it when he drives to golf courses.

  • What a wonderfully written profile of John, our institutional memory of the Peace Corps embodied!
    Thank you, Jeremiah, for capturing our much-beloved historian, author, guide, and guru for everything Peace Corps, in such a thoughtfully written article!

    And thank you to John for all he has done and continues to do for the Peace Corps community – from individual RPCVs to the agency itself!

    A Towering Task, our documentary about the history of the Peace Corps, would not exist without John!

  • Thank you, Jerry, for describing in such beautiful detail the many lives and accomplishments of John Coyne.
    Thank you, John, for everything you have done to create and sustain the RPCV community, as well as the Peace Corps.

  • Jerry: A very complete profile of John. I didn’t know he had accomplished so much more outside of his efforts for and on behalf of the PC. A truly prolific individual.

  • John’s amazing contributions will celebrated even further if he can find someone or organization to capably pickup and carry forth his concepts and services..

  • John, golf and your family and now your grandson probably provided the few outlets you gave yourself during your Peace Corps Worldwide years, when your postings often arrived before most of us woke up. The site under your and Marian’s watch became primary go-to-places for discussions on issues shaping today’s and the future Peace Corps and The Third Goal. To the Profile in Citizenship, we should add your arranging with American University to archive the treasure of PCW postings. I live down the street from AU, and the archivist told me that you had requested that it be set up in a way to permit easy access as a reference document.

  • Jeremiah,
    Thank you so much for writing this wonderful tribute to John! John has given more of his time and energy to the Peace Corps community than anyone I know, except for Marian. Their contributions are invaluable, and, as I’ve written before, they’re the living, breathing, definition of the Third Goal of the Peace Corps. They’ve done much more than bring the Peace Corps home to America, they’ve given RPCVs a voice through the website. I’m very grateful for their loyalty and dedication to the Peace Corps and all of us RPCVs.

  • I had no idea! As one of the founding writers for the website, I owe John a huge debt of gratitude for the invitation to contribute, giving me the space to explore writing on a regular basis. Life got in the way and I drifted. But I am ever grateful for the opportunity and for the friends made.

  • I can’t add much to what everyone else has already said, except to say that I am saddened to lose not only this link to the Peace Corps world, but the correspondence of an old friend and mentor. Whatever comes next for you, John, I’m sure it will be as great a success as Peace Corps Worldwide. Enjoy all that is to come in your world.

    Love, yes, Love, Leita

  • John got an early start with the Peace Corps. Just after JFK’s famous October 1960 speech at the University of Michigan John started a committee at Western Michigan, where he was studying, to organize students to write Kennedy in support of starting a Peace Corps. (And within a year most members of that committee were serving overseas in the Peace Corps.)

  • I’ll take on speaking for all the ATPs: John you were/are a marvel.
    Look forward to your future triumphs, but you fulfilled PCV’s 3d goal admirably. All best

  • John, still time to change your mind….. you’re irreplaceable!! Marvelous thing you’ve done over these many years. Profound thanks!

    Ken

  • John Coyne’s contribution to the Peace Corps is something to be celebrated and acknowledged by all of us who have be informed and entertained by the articles and comments on the website. Thank you John, thank you.

    Note to Jerry: Muchas gracias, a wonderful tribute to John.

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