More than sixty percent of currently serving Peace Corps Volunteers are women. Over the decades, thousands of women who served in the Peace Corps went on to make their mark as trailblazers and leaders. As we remember members of our community who passed away over the past month, we recognize not only women who played important roles in the sciences, computer programming, education and health, but also a prominent female with a front-row seat to Peace Corps' launch.
She worked side-by-side with Sargent Shriver over three decades. Mary Ann Orlando began working as Shriver's Executive Assistant when he was Assistant General Manager of Joseph P. Kennedy's Merchandise Mart in Chicago in the 1940's. When Shriver was appointed by President Kennedy to launch the Peace Corps, Mary Ann was his confidential assistant. When President Johnson called upon Shriver to organize the new Office of Economic Opportunity, Mary Ann juggled her time working with Shriver at both the Peace Corps and the OEO. She also accompanied Shriver for two years when we served as U.S. Ambassador to France. Returning to the U.S. in 1970, Mary Ann joined William McCormick Blair Jr., to set up the JFK Center for the Performing Arts, and worked as its Special Events Coordinator. She later worked at foundations focusing on mental health and drug/alcohol abuse, and consulted with the National Bonsai Foundation at the National Arboretum. Upon her retirement in 1996, Mary Ann volunteered at Common Cause and the Phillips Collection, and served as a major fundraiser and advisor to the Chicago-based Sargent Shriver National Center for Poverty Law.
Her early work with the Peace Corps in Afghanistan was only the start of a longstanding commitment to others by Patricia Weeks (1937 – 2017). A double major in sociology and psychology led first to Patricia’s work as a social worker in Iowa and Oregon. Her 1960’s Peace Corps service was later followed by nearly a decade of work as a teacher and consultant in Nepal and Bangladesh. Patricia’s other list of service and accomplishments includes her work as a coordinator for an international consortium of private organizations involved in food aid, lead writer and editor for the International Services Division of the American Red Cross, caseworker for West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd and editor for the National Labor Relations Board.
Winifred A. "Winnie" McCarthy (1937 – 2017) was one of the first female computer programmers on the East Coast, working at the Paper Chase Company, before devoting a number of years volunteering. Winnie volunteered with the Peace Corps in the Philippines and also served as a VISTA Volunteer. Following this service, Winnie founded and directed The Star of the Sea, in order to provide housing and care for homeless women of New York. As director, Winnie spent many years rebuilding a block in New York City to provide a safe and clean living environment.
The sciences were central in the life of Elizabeth Headings (1927 – 2017). With a chemistry degree in Moravian College and a Masters in Biochemistry from the University of Delaware, Elizabeth worked more than 25 years in Pittsburgh as an industrial analytical chemist. This would lead to Peace Corps service at age 62, when she became a science teacher in Botswana. Elizabeth was active in the First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh, and was a longtime member of the Pittsburgh chapter of the National Organization for Women, including two years of service as co-president.
Many years before volunteering in the Peace Corps, Roberta Gibson (1924-2017) was a successful and devoted nurse. In 1944, Roberta graduated from the Meriden (Connecticut) Nursing School. After working as an RN at Meriden Hospital, she began working in the OR at Yale-New Haven Hospital. Roberta is remembered for walking out of the operating room in protest of the poor treatment of nurses. She was a Neurosurgery and General Surgery nurse at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in N.Y., then worked for three years in Santa Barbara, Calif. after the war as an OR nurse. Roberta was one of the founding members of the Santa Barbara NAACP, working for civil rights in the early 1950s. After working in many other hospitals as a nurse, she graduated from Catholic University with a BSN. Once joining the Peace Corps in 1965, Roberta was sent to Santiago, Chile to work as a nurse and teach health skills. Roberta was a Staff Member of the Peace Corps in Arecibo, Puerto Rico and worked as a health educator.
Education was central throughout the life of Phyllis Eleanore Noble (1942-2017) who devoted much of her life and career in working with the under-served. Phyllis graduated with a degree in English from Loyola University, becoming the first member of her family to receive a college degree. Soon after graduating, she joined the Peace Corps, serving as an English teacher in Nigeria. Following service, she earned her masters degree in Special Education from Boston College, and returned to her native Chicago to begin her career. From 1970-75, Phyllis was the coordinator of the Cabrini Learning Center Follow-Through Program. After traveling to Guatemala and Bolivia to study Spanish, Phyllis came back to Chicago again to serve as administrator of Instituto del Progreso Latino, an alternative evening school for adult immigrants from Mexico. In the mid-1980's Phyllis and her family moved to Madison, Wisconsin. She taught in the Madison Metropolitan School District for the next 14 years, and also conducted ESL and U.S. citizenship classes at Madison Area Technical College. Upon retirement, Phyllis remained very active. One of her primary achievements in the last decade of her life involved working on all facets of the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Oral History Archives Project. NPCA established the RPCV Oral History Project Fund in her memory to digitize the over 500 interviews with RPCVs between 1995 and 2015 which were recorded on tape.
Below is our In Memoriam list for members of the Peace Corps community who recently passed away:
Mary Ann Orlando (1961-66), 4/20/17
Dr. Russ (Rosario) Sardo, 5/9/17
Ruth "Virginia" Gibson - Venezuela/Peru (1970-72), 6/10/17
James C. Matheson - Ecuador/Jamaica (1970's), 4/28/17
John Shybut - Malaysia/Micronesia (1972-77), 6/5/17
Patricia Weeks (1963-65), 5/7/17
Elizabeth Headings (1990-92), 5/25/17
Gara Malesky, posted 6/6/17
Roberta Cooke Gibson (1962-64), 5/23/17
Gordon I. Gould Jr., 5/15/17
Edwin Roberts (1969-73), 6/6/17
Robert L. "Bob" Buyt (1965-67), 5/16/17
Clement Malcom Walker (1985-87), 5/18/17
Fred Oliver Dolven (1966-68), 6/1/17
Benjamin Sharman (1962-64), 6/8/17
Ruth E. Ortiz, 5/23/17
Jeanne I. O'Leary (1964-66), 5/21/17
Ruth Jeffries, 6/7/17
John Dumanske, (1986-88), 5/18/17
Evan Anthony Franklin, 5/17/17
Jerome H. Rogoff M.D. [Staff] 6/1/17
Charles Gerson (Staff, 1965-67), 5/21/17
Phyllis Noble (1965-67), 5/31/17
Mildred B. Hendrick (1963-65), 5/22/17
Diana L. Stahl, 5/22/17
Valerie Stetson (1979-81), 2/13/17
Susan L. Eckert (1969-72), 5/27/17
Linda Darnell-Lapete, 6/1/17
Diane C. Aubry (1969-71), 4/27/17
COUNTRY OF SERVICE NOT SPECIFIED
Maria A. deLacerda, 5/28/17
Mary Elizabeth (Betty) DiTeodoro, 5/24/17
Michael Kemper, 5/30/17
Henry Klein, 6/7/17
Hal Mullins, 5/17/17
Eugene Rex Shaw, 4/21/17