Jonathan Zimmerman: Sargent Shriver's Lasting Legacy

[Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history at New York University and is the author of "Innocents Abroad: American Teachers in the American Century."]

In 1966, my father sent a resume to the Peace Corps. A few days later, he found himself sitting across a table from the agency's director, Sargent Shriver.

"Want to go to India?" Shriver asked.

My dad was 33 years old, he had three kids, and his only overseas experience was two vacations in Europe. But he had also attended Yale Law School, like Shriver, which made both of them "certified smart guys," as Dad liked to say. So Shriver made him director of the Peace Corps in south India, and off we went.

Audacious? Yes. Arrogant? Probably. But it worked. The Peace Corps brought a whole generation of privileged, talented people into public service and global awareness. They may not have known exactly what they were doing, but they learned a great deal along the way.

And it all started with Shriver, who died Tuesday at the age of 95. As the Peace Corps' first director, Shriver embodied the agency's faith in the power of "personality," as he called it. Find the best people, he said, and everything else will be OK....

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