A man of many contradictions looks back on a lifetime of service to people in the public and private sectors.
Vaughn (1920-2012) may not have the name recognition of contemporaries like George McGovern or Sargent Shriver, but his influence echoes through the fabric of American life. Vaughn worked on this autobiography from 1992 until his death, and his daughter, Constantineau, completed the project. To her credit, Vaughn’s distinctive voice and sense of humor remain. A politically conservative but socially liberal public servant, Vaughn served as the second director of the Peace Corps, ambassador to Panama and Colombia, and head of the National Urban Coalition and Planned Parenthood Federation of America. What could have been—and sporadically is—a dry accounting of a career in service is punctuated by Vaughn’s colorful personality and front-row seat to world history. The author describes fighting as a Marine in bloody battles in Guam and Okinawa and boxing professionally from the Golden Gloves to Latin America. The title comes from a match in Juarez that earns Vaughn’s commentary: “The bad news was that I was the gringo. The good news was that I had not yet become familiar with the Spanish verb ‘to kill.’ ” Later, the author describes meeting a sickly doctor in Panama in the mid-1950s who later became the revolutionary Che Guevara. Republican Vaughn earned the ire of Bobby Kennedy and a “Good going, son!” from his boss, Lyndon Johnson. Occasionally, the author lapses into a listless retelling of his uneven career arc, but there’s enough engaging eyewitness history to make it a worthy read and a textbook for those seeking a career in public service.
You must admire a man whose career advice included, “I often say it’s a gift to be fired at least once,” and “it is always better to be rumored to work for the CIA than to actually be employed there.”