Peace Corps Writers
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July 2005
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And then Sarge said to me

Charles Baquet III (Somalia 1965–67) retired several years ago from the Foreign Service. His last overseas tour was as the Ambassador to Djibouti, and he then served for five years as the Deputy Director of the Peace Corps. Today Chuck is the Director of the Center for Intercultural and International Programs at Xavier University of Louisiana. Here Chuck recalls what Sarge Shriver said to him in the fall of 1993.

IN EARLY FALL 1993 I was at the Embassy in Djibouti when I got a call from the White House asking me if I were interested in serving as Peace Corps Deputy Director. It took me about ten seconds to say yes! The Department of State sent travel orders and I returned to Washington to report to the White House personnel office. There I dutifully settled into filling out forms and experiencing interviews conducted by young White House staffers who evidenced a lack of knowledge of where it was I served or just what it was I did for the Clinton administration.
    Just after lunch on day two, I rotated back to the White House staffer who originally interviewed me. He asked me if I knew Sargent Shriver and then handed me a slip of paper with an address, a phone number and he suggested that I make an appointment to interview with Mr. Shriver.
     My first Foreign Service assignment had been to Embassy Paris when Sarge was our Ambassador there. I wasn’t sure if this tasking was a joke or a test but I pocketed the slip of paper looking forward to seeing my ambassador again.
     I had not anticipated first meeting Sarge’s famous secretary, fondly called by everyone who wanted to see Sarge, “the Gatekeeper from Hell.” She was tough and determined not to permit anyone even a couple of minutes with Sarge. Just as I was about to give up, Sarge breezed in. He introduced himself, I explained who I was then he led me back to his office. He initiated our interview which was more like a general interrogation about African affairs.
     Sarge asked about my work in Djibouti and how the Horn of Africa had faired since the departure of Said Barre of Somalia and Mengheistu of Ethiopia. He asked about my assignment to Cape Town, Mendela’s health and U.S. involvement’s in South Africa as we all worked towards the run-up to the referendum that would create the new Republic of South Africa. We talked about the growing HIV/AIDS crisis, the dearth of primary health care delivery systems and the compelling need for education reform continent wide.
     At about this point Mrs. Shriver stuck her head in the office to remind Sarge that they were due at the White House in half an hour. As he changed his tie, he allowed as how he enjoyed our conversation and asked if he could do anything for me.
     Immediately I asked for his recommendation to the White House for the Deputy’s position at Peace Corps. He advised that he thought that I should be Deputy Assistant Secretary for Africa. I responded that that position was already filled and that I wanted to serve as Deputy Director of the Peace Corps. And then Sarge said to me, “I don’t make recommendations to the White House. That is a political activity which I avoid as best I can.” Mrs. Shriver then reappeared at the door ready to go and they left for the White House.
      Somewhat dejected, I remember sitting in his office watching early evening traffic build and the city’s lights come on. Finally, I dragged myself back to my hotel and went to bed.
      Rising early, I determined to execute plan B: return to White House personnel to do my travel voucher, turn in papers and try to book an evening flight to Paris enroute back to my embassy in Djibouti.
     Arriving at the personnel office, I was greeted with “where the hell have you been? We tried all evening to contact you.” I said that I did not think that my meeting with Sarge went particularly well so I decided to call it a day. He gave me a quizzical look and asked if I knew that Mrs. Shriver was honored last evening by the White House for the work she does with mentally/physically challenged Americans through the Special Olympics? It seems that while the President, Mrs. Clinton and the Shrivers were in a holding area, prior to the commencement of ceremonies, Sarge bent the President’s ear about the U.S. ambassador to Djibouti, someone who could easily serve as an assistant secretary, currently visiting White House personnel talking about a job in the administration. “You know,” my White House personnel minder said, “we didn’t expect that you would get to see Sargent Shriver. As far as we know you are the only candidate who did.” Then he handed me another appointment slip. “You are scheduled to meet this morning with Senator Chris Dodd’s foreign affairs staffer for a pre-confirmation hearing get-to-know-you meeting. If this meeting goes as badly as the one you had with Mr. Shriver, you will soon be our next Peace Corps Deputy Director.”

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