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Remembering Coates Redmon

by Maureen Carroll (Philippines 1961–63)

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AS A VERY EARLY PCV, I was also one of the first RPCVs to join the headquarters staff. Sargent Shriver had attracted or seduced the true “best and brightest” of the time to get the Peace Corps aloft, and many of them were still there in late 1963 when I arrived in the Office of Evaluation. Working among the likes of Bill Moyers, Franklin Williams, Frank Mankiewicz, Harris Wofford, Charlie Peters, David Gelman, Warren Wiggins, Nan McEvoy, Bob Gale etc. was heady, challenging, inspiring, and lots of fun.
     One of the women I met early on, Coates Redmon, became a friend for life. She was working in the Special Projects Office, writing Annual Reports and Congressional Presentations, savoring tales from the field and writing lively and convincing versions for the public and the Congress. Coates loved hearing our tales of life overseas, and we loved listening to her witty and keen observations on the social and political life in Washington and within the Peace Corps.
     She and her husband Hayes had arrived in Washington at the dawn of the Kennedy years via New York City and Colorado. Hayes later worked with Bill Moyers in the Lyndon Johnson White House, and Coates later worked for Roslyn Carter in the East Wing. Coates was the first person I ever knew well whom I thought of as an “insider.” She moved in social circles in Washington and Cambridge and New York City and Martha’s Vineyard that produced delicious anecdotes about the high and mighty. And Coates was a master story-teller — full of wit, irreverence, and probity.
     Those qualities paid off handsomely in 1986, when she published one of the Peace Corps classics — ranking right up there with Living Poor, The Ponds of Kalambayi, River Town, Nine Hills to Nambonkaha, and many other finely written accounts from the Volunteer and field perspective. While some authors had written accounts of the Peace Corps from a headquarters perspective, the books tended to be academic and stolid. In Come As You Are: The Peace Corps Story (published in 1986 by Harcourt BraceJovanovich,) Coates tells the story of the founding of the Peace Corps, based primarily on interviews with many of the principals that reconstruct the story “behind the scenes.” This book is highly readable and essential to understand the evolution of the unique Peace Corps spirit and style that continues to characterize the agency almost 45 years later.
     Coates held many interesting positions in her career — fellowship chairman for the Institute of Politics at Harvard, writer and producer for Children’s Television Workshop, speechwriting for Senator Charles Percy and for Rosalyn Carter, and Executive Director of the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards. But like many of us, Peace Corps remained her first true love. Her book is out of print but should be available in libraries or at other sources specializing in used books. Read it — you’ll enjoy it tremendously — as all of us who knew Coates enjoyed her company and her friendship.   Coates Redmon — 1931–2005
Maureen Carroll was a Peace Corps Volunteer with the first group to the Philippines in 1961 and worked for the Peace Corps during the 60s and the 90s. She has always been considered by those who knew her in the agency as a "Super Vol" and a "Super Staff." Maureen was on the short list of possible Peace Corps directors in the mid-‘90s when Carol Bellamy was selected at the first RPCV to become director by President Clinton. Like Coates, Maureen has done many other things in her life, both here and abroad. A resident of Washington DC for many years, she is "slacking" at the moment, waiting for her next great adventure.
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