Jack Vaughn 1920 – 2012
By Jonathan Pearson on Thursday, November 1st, 2012
The Peace Corps community has lost another of its legendary figures.
Jack Hood Vaughn, the man who had the unenviable task of following Peace Corps founder Sargent Shriver as the agency’s second director, passed away in Tucson Arizona at the age of 92.
Vaughn was appointed Director of the Peace Corps in 1966 by President Lyndon Johnson. He made his mark. According to the Peace Corps, during his three years as director, “Vaughn took steps to improve Peace Corps marketing, programming, and Volunteer support as large numbers of returned Volunteers joined the Peace Corps staff. He also promoted Volunteer assignments in conservation, natural resource management, and community development.”
Many would agree that Vaughn was one of the agency’s most colorful leaders. Born in Montana, Vaughn was a professional boxer, a World War Two Veteran, an official with the US Information Agency and US Agency for International Development, and former Ambassador to Panama and Colombia.
A graduate of the University of Michigan, Vaughn was among the many on hand in October, 2010 for the 50th anniversary of presidential candidate John Kennedy’s historic speech that led to the formation of the Peace Corps. It was at that gathering that Vaughn spoke of his two homes: Ann Arbor, Michigan and the Peace Corps. His remarks at that gathering can be found below.
The following are the remarks of former Peace Corps Director Jack Vaughn during October 14, 2010 50th anniversary celebrations at the University of Michigan:
Ann Arbor is my home. The University of Michigan is my alma mater. It was here that uncounted relatives and I were educated, including three of my sisters, my wife and my daughter. It was here that I taught romance languages and coached boxing. It was here, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, that my Brothers from the Phi Gam House and I marched down to the Marine Corps recruiting station to enlist in World War II. Ann Arbor is my home. I love Ann Arbor.
The Peace Corps is also my home. I couldn’t resign from the Foreign Service fast enough to join Kennedy’s call, so eloquently expressed on these steps. Working with Sargent Shriver, I was responsible for introducing the Peace Corps to Latin America, which remains an exciting and vibrant Peace Corps success story to this day. Succeeding Shriver as Director was the toughest and most rewarding job I ever had. I was completely at home in the Peace Corps. It has been a huge part of my life for almost 50 years. I love the Peace Corps and its Volunteers.
Student activists, particularly at Michigan and other mid-western universities, jumped on the Kennedy campaign bandwagon early and forcefully. I suspect it was those early campus volunteers who opened JFK’s eyes to the power and possibility of post-election volunteerism.
Peace Corps Volunteers epitomize service, dedicating at least two years to their lives to living among, and helping, the poorest of the poor in all four corners of the world. They do messy, backbreaking work under the most difficult circumstances imaginable. They overcome loneliness, hardship and unimaginable obstacles. They are the authors of uncounted success stories. When they return to the United States they reorient themselves and their careers to make important contributions in all walks of American life, from national political office to public health, to social work, to environment preservation, to teaching in the inner city, to name a few. Their commitment to service is boundless. They are the best of Americans.
This is the previously overlooked talent Kennedy tapped into when he spoke on the steps here 50 years ago.
The last time I was with President Kennedy, we were standing on a balcony overlooking the massive main square in Bogota, Colombia. It was early pandemonium. The roaring and applauding of over a million people was deafening.
Can you understand what is happening here, Senor Presidente, just what has caused this unique demonstration in front of us?” asked host President Alberto Lleras Camargo. “My people believe that you are on their side.”
That was, and still is, the beauty of the Peace Corps and why we are here today to recall JFK’s message of service and love that October night.