Will Newman (Nepal) Remembers Early Peace Corps Years

By 1970 most of the country desk officers had been Volunteers and APCDs in the field.  We were a noisy, can-do bunch, within the NANESA Region roughly half females. I was on the Nepal desk my second 30-month tour from mid-1970 through early ‘73. Don Hess was the Peace Corps Director, leading the formerly independent agency that was then part of ACTION.

On my last day Hess called me to his office and asked me to contract to lead a team to revise the entire Peace Corps Manual. [It was not lost on me that the last gasp of a dying bureaucracy was to redo their rule book.] I did agree, provided I could hire an editor and an experienced typist. I also asked for someone from A&F to serve with me.  Hess agreed. Don Romine joined our little team.

Will Newman (Nepal 1963-65)

My first act was to visit the Peace Corps print shop to learn how to involve them early and to ask about transmittal sheets and how manual sections were sent to the field.  Mary, who ran that shop, was a huge help all along the way.

As soon as the ACTION people learned of my task, they wanted in, actually proposing that the Peace Corps Manual become a few chapters of the multi-volume ACTION manual. A rumpled man showed up in my office to insist on all that.  He carried a thick folder of his government personnel records, apparently having been shunted from dead-end job to job and very fearful of his career.  He had little idea about ACTION, let alone the policy writing process.

My second act, then, was to visit with ACTION’s Chief of Staff, a former Peace Corps staffer. She agreed to a separate Peace Corps Manual but wanted each manual section approved by ACTION. I told her no, adding that I was prepared to send up only those manual sections about which there was disagreement among the Peace Corps Director (he was then called the Director of International Operations), the Peace Corps General Counsel, and the Peace Corps Director of A&F. She finally relented.

My third act was to let those three Peace Corps officials know about the deal I had struck. The feedback was amused agreement. I then extracted promises for their speedy reviews of finished sections and agreements to meet in my office weekly for briefings on our progress and for me to receive guidance. They were wonderfully cooperative, and at the end of the process I had not sent one manual section to ACTION for their review.

Kelly Kammerer, the Peace Corps Deputy General Counsel, had the only complete, up-to-date Peace Corps Manual as our starting point. His desk copy had many pen-and-ink notations and many notes affixed with tape. He was enormously helpful throughout the process, although we both knew that a talented, savvy Country Director really didn’t need a manual — and that our new manual wouldn’t be of much help to Country Directors who were clueless and/or poor leaders. (Sadly there were those in the second category.)

Over the next nine months we ground through the old manual, section by section, transmitting the completed ones to the field once approved. (It was my job to make sure that the process did not introduce unintended conflicts among the various sections.) Once the final section was completed, the PC was able to publish the manual in its entirety for all the field posts and the concerned PC/W offices.

Many of the manual sections needed updating and prudent changes, most of which Don Romine and I drafted. On only one section did I have a real debate with Don Hess. Close of Service Volunteers could receive one-third of their readjustment allowance at post, enabling them to do some traveling in route to the states. Hess opposed this policy, saying that the Volunteers needed to get back home to their parents. I reminded him that all PCVs are adults and deserve to make their own decisions about post-PC plans. He finally relented, perhaps concerned that so many of us RPCVs are, shall we say, properly outspoken!

This work turned out to be interesting and challenging. Working with and for talented and highly effective people was a joy, and as proud as I was of our team, I was more proud of the confidence the “5th Floor” placed in us.

A final comment, possibly a confession:  years later when I was the PC/Nepal Country Director, I never once cracked the Peace Corps Manual.

Will Newman graduated in social sciences from the University of California and was a PCV in Nepal (1963-65) as a rural development Volunteer and then a trainer for subsequent Nepal groups.  Later he was an APCD in Nepal (1967-70) and the Nepal CDO (1970-73).  He then worked two years in Riyadh for the U.S.-Saudi Joint Economic Commission and in (1991-94) he was the CD in Nepal.  In mid-career he led a consulting company.  In his last career chapter he owned a remodeling company.  Now retired, Will and his wife live in Rhode Island.



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  • Will, great to read about this interesting piece of early PC years. We all benefited from you tenacity! And, yes, you were one of those Country Directors who didn’t need the manual to know how to lead and be respected by all.

  • John,

    Alon with “bad men in PC/W”, you may want to consider this subject with those early PC Country Directors. Take one example: Chris Sheldon, first Country Director in Colombia. In May 1961. He had just lost his wife and five students on his Ocean Academy sail boat which had been hit by a freak storm. Most students, including Chris, were on deck when the storm hit and the boat went down in less than 15 seconds. One of the students who survived was the son of the President of Radcliffe, Mary Bunting. She then recommended to Sarge that he hire Chris as the first Country Director and he then opened the PC program in Colombia in the fall of 1961–barely three months after his disaster at sea. By 1965, under his leadership, Colombia was the largest PC program in the world with 1,550 Volunteers on site. The sinking of his ship, the Albatross, was made into a movie called “White Squall.

  • Well spoken Jerry,
    As one of the PCVs who served under Chris Sheldon, he was an awesome leader. Never knowing what experiments and programs to try as being among the first PCVs, with no manuals to follow, etc. We only had our wits to lead us. When we asked for advice from Chris, he would sit back, stroke his chin, look us in the eyes and ask the question, “what is the worst thing that can happen?” At that time, we only had rumors of the magnitude of tragedy that he had experienced. No one knew! So appreciative of the movie White Squall, it told his story so well.

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