Warren Wiggins Learns How To Say, "Father Ted"

The death of Father Ted Hesburgh brought back to mind a story I heard about Father Ted and Warren Wiggins that happened in the early days of the agency.

As we all know, the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, “Father Ted” who transformed the University of Notre Dame into an academic power during his 35 years as president, died last week. Father Ted was also a key figure in the creation of the Peace Corps.

In 1997 I interviewed the late Warren Wiggins about his role in the early days of the agency. For those

Wiggins & Kennedy

Wiggins & Kennedy

who do not know, Warren, with Bill Josephson, wrote “A Towering Task” which was a working paper that they sent to Sargent Shriver in early ’61 as Sarge was in the beginning stages of designing the agency.

Wiggins came “on board” then, and eventually became the Deputy Director.

When I interviewed Warren in 1997, I asked him about other members of the planning group who met in the Mayfloor Hotel, who they were, and what they did for the Peace Corps and for him.

When I asked about Harris Wofford, a key architect of the agency, Warren said:

He was very helpful. He was very important to Shriver. The most important thing Wofford brought was his influence, as a sounding board, an initiator and a friend of Shriver. He was an enormous help to me personally. He sat me down once and said, “Warren, you’ve got to learn how to say ‘Father Ted’.” Theodore Hesburgh, the president of Notre Dame, was called ‘Father Ted’ by everyone and he was important to Shriver, important to the Peace Corps, and we were training our first Volunteers for Chile at his university. Harris said to me, “We’re going to practice now.” This is an absolutely true story. Wofford said, “Father Ted,” and I said, “Father Ted.” “Say it again,” said Wofford, “say it again.” And this was repeated and repeated until it became natural.

Wofford & Obama

Wofford & Obama

I guess being a Unitarian I was uncomfortable speaking so informally to a priest. I don’t know. Maybe because I never had dealt with a Catholic priest in my life. I don’t know the answer. I was a person of limited experience and here I was going out to Notre Dame to negotiate with Hesburgh (excuse me, Father Ted). Wofford walked me through an education process, and I’m indebted to the man.

And you wonder: How in the world did we ever get a Peace Corps?

7 Comments

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  • Gee, and none of those heroes mentioned were RPCVs!

    Who wudda thought that the PC ever ran without them….

    Despite the fact that Carrie now has a good friend in the White House, the list of those founders makes you wonder if it’s not more important that the Director be close to the White House than being an RPCV.

    Tom

  • I always told visitors to our embassies that the edge a political appointee had over a career man was that the former could get on the phone and call Barack or George or Bill directly.

  • Peace Corps proto-language training program:

    Repeat after me. “Good morning, Father Ted.” “How are you, Father Ted.” “I am happy to be here,” Father Ted.

    The rest is history.

  • Nice to see even a postage stamp sized picture I made for the PC. God it was such a happy time, doing what we could for world peace. How young we were!

  • Tom–As you may not know, or perhaps you have gotten at your age, there were no PCVs in February of 1961 when the Peace Corps was designed by the Mayflower Hotel Gang. The first Volunteers did not arrive in Ghana until August, slightly ahead of the ‘boys to Colombia.”

    The Mayflower gang, however, had plenty of overseas experience. Shriver had been to Europe even while in college; Wofford had gone to India and wrote a book about; Wiggins had worked after WW on US economic programs for 14 nations in Europe, then as the senior US economic adviser in the Philippines; Bill Moyers, who was only 26 at the time, had already studied ecclesiastical history of Western Europe at Edinburgh in Scotland; Gordon Boyce, anothr consultant of the Gang, and chief o the Divsion of Private Organizations at the Peace Corps, did so while on leave from being the president of the U.S. Experiment in International Living, he came directly to the agency from having done training in Venezuela and set up the first project to then East Pakistan. I could go on…Yes, no RPCVs among them, but lots of experience.

  • Harris Wofford was on CNN today taliking about marching in Selma with Martin Luther King….a time when giants walked the earth!

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