The other first impression I had of him was that he was awed, not by himself, but of the responsibility of  his new position. He was awed, for example, by the recent reception he got traveling to four Peace Corps countries that took him around the world shortly after he was appointed director by President Obama. Now here is a guy, if you look at his resume, who has been almost everything, but this time, as the Peace Corps Director, he came in contact with the RPCVs who are living and working around the world, in the Embassy and AID, but also private business. “RPCVs are everything,”  he remarked, impressed at how pervasive we all are.

He was also awed by the lasting influence of the Peace Corps. In South Africa, they met by chance with the President of Malawi, and managed to meet him on the spur of the moment because the chief-of-staff for the Malawi President had been educated by PCVs and would do anything for the Peace Corps. This man quickly arranged the meeting, and the President of Malawi then changed his plans so he could go to a swearing-in of new Volunteers. (If you were a teacher in the Peace Corps and you think you did not have a lasting influence on your students, think again.)

I asked Williams immediately the question any former Ethie PCV would want to know: When are we going to send teachers back into Ethiopia?

We’re working on it, he said. Clearly getting teachers in Ethiopia made sense to him. He also said there were 3 new countries waiting now for PCVs and the $400 million in the budget that has just been passed by Congress is going to make opening these countries a lot easier. Vietnam, by the way, is on the top of that list. (Another friend in the foreign service told me while I was in D.C. that Senator John Kerry is pushing for PCVs to go to Vietnam. Kerry sees it as his last ‘act’ for the country where he went to war.)

But what is Williams grand plan for the Peace Corps agency? Everyone–from Congress to the kid on the street shining shoes–thinks the agency should be overhauled, reworked, goosed up,  ‘reinvented’ into something else, something better.

Aaron has three basic ideas in mind.

First: Slow growth of the agency. He is not going to start loading up planes (not even the new Boeing Dreamliner) and sending PCVs into the field. What he wants to do is look at overseas NGOs and see about placement of Volunteers into existing slots in the developing world. For example (Aaron did not tell me this), when the Peace Corps got a ‘ton’ of money from the Bush Administration to do AIDS work in Africa, most of these countries weren’t ready. In Ethiopia, for example, the first Volunteers back into the country spent most of a year wandering around looking for ways to do their jobs. Williams comes out of a long history of development and sees placement of PCVs into real jobs as key. He is not going to start ‘dumping’ Volunteers into the Third World just to raise the number of PCVs in the Peace Corps.

Second: Using technology in the field. This is long overdue, Aaron said, and I jumped on this issue, giving him my pet project idea of a laptop for all  PCVs, the obvious replacement of Shriver’s old book lockers for the early Volunteers. Williams  believes in being innovative in the world, and we’ll lots of changes. He didn’t say yes to my laptop idea, but we’re early in our relationship and I’ll work on him.

Third: This new direction by Aaron was the most surprising, and it has taken nearly 50 years, and an RPCV, to realize that the Third Goal of the agency has never been funded. As Aaron says, “sharing Volunteer experiences through a variety of venues and initiatives will not only benefit American communities and classrooms but will strengthen the agency by increasing awareness of the work and the value of our Volunteers and their projects.  Nearly 200,000 Americans have served with the Peace Corps since 1961.  Their voice is significant, thoughtful and experienced.  They are among our best recruiters.  They are leaders here at home in academia, diplomacy, journalism, public health, law and entrepreneurship. Our dialogue with our Returned Peace Corps Volunteers is critical in capturing the imagination of the next generation of Volunteers.”

This, as we know, is long overdue. My own regret is that Aaron didn’t mention the Peace Corps books that have been written by many of you, the vast library of information and experiences that  you have all recorded, and in so doing educated America, and the world about the developing world. For example, just this morning, I found a reference on my google search of “all thing Peace Corps” that the Central European University is now using in their history curriculum, a travel essay by Jeff  Taylor (Hungary 1990-92), that I published in my 1994 collection, Going Up Country: Travel Essays by Peace Corps Writers. The writings by PCVs are being read, even in places that surprise us.

Aaron is now the fourth RPCV to be the director. He has a good shot at really making a difference in the agency (we have waited long enough!) as he has the development background. He has also surrounded himself with RPCVs, and gravitates to them. His chief-of-staff is an RPCV, as is the new deputy (once she is conformed). He is committed to making the 50th Anniversary a real event, and will run the reunion out of his office. He wants to connect with country-of-service groups, seeing that they are the strength of the RPCV community.

He is not flashy; he is not ego driven; he is not a glad-hander, he does not give a great speech; he is not Obama. But he has a solid development background, great connections in Washington, the easy manner of someone who knows who he is and what there is to be done for the agency, and most importantly, and best of all,  he is an RPCV.

We wish him the best. I think we have a winner in this director of the Peace Corps.