Will Newman (Nepal) remembers how Shriver made the Peace Corps happen

 

After 5 years on staff in Nepal and PC/W, I was hired on a short-term personal services contract to form and lead a team to revise the entire Peace Corps Operations Manual.  Don Romine (Ethiopia APCD 1965-67) was with Administration & Finance at the time, and I asked him to join me.

Shriver,  Wofford, Wiggins, Josephson and a half dozen others created the Peace Corps in two rooms of the Mayflower Hotel in thirty days in the immediate days after the election. Then Kennedy signed an Executive Order to create the new agency. The next job was selling Congress. Don Romine told how he had been an intern during those days and worked with the task force to sell Congress on the idea of a Peace Corps.

Several days a week the task force would invite state congressional delegations to breakfast or lunch at the Capitol.  Shriver would make a presentation and entertain questions.  Often the questions were hard, and when they had no answers they would say so and promise quick responses.  (You can imagine the audiences’ skepticism.)

But each afternoon, relying on Moyers’s notes, the small Peace Corps group would go over all the questions and devise policies that seemed reasonable and best for the agency.  Then Moyers would feed mimeograph sheets into his typewriter and create page after page of questions and answers.  Don would work late day after day running offsets for the entire Congress.  After a nap and shower at home, he would drive early to capital hill to place the Peace Corps papers in all the boxes by 6:00 AM.

Soon, the Peace Corps gained a reputation for very fast and thorough responses. Meaning that when Rep. Hornblower from the state of Euphoria asked a question on day one, his answer arrived on day two, something unheard of on the hill.

In one famous exchange, Otto Passman was grilling Shriver on the budget, asking how he knew he needed the amount requested.  Shriver said he wasn’t absolutely sure, given that PC was yet to launch.  Passman asked what would happen if they didn’t need or use all the money.  Shriver said he’d return the balance to Treasury, at which Passmsn laughed so hard he nearly choked.  For the several initial years of its existence, the Peace Corps returned some funds to Treasury.

Were their questions and concerns about Communism and grave doubt that volunteers would have staying power, let alone be successful. Absolutely. But the program’s speedy and successful launch was due in the main to Shriver’s willingness and ability to put in the time and effort to win over the Congress. This is rare leadership for sure, and it was buttressed by Shriver’s total faith in the volunteers. And of his willingness to give large grants of authority to field staff.  To his credit, PC/W was to support the field, not direct operations from the center.  Our godfather was a rare and brilliant man.

Photo by Stu Ullmann (Nepal 1963-65)

Will Newman (Nepal 1963-65) was a Rural Development Volunteer in Nepal. After his tour he was a trainer for two other Nepal projects, then an APCD in Nepal. Following that, he worked for thirty-months as the Nepal desk officer at PC/HQ. His last Peace Corps tour was as CD in Nepal from 1991-93.

 

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