February 23, 2003 - News Observer: McKoy finds peace in corps post

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McKoy finds peace in corps post

Read and comment on this story from the News Observer on Henry McKoy the Regional Director Africa in the Peace Corps who says "I'm in the right place doing the right thing at the right time of my life. It is the hope that the work that I do during the time that I'm here, I can look back at the end of it and say that this was worthwhile." Read the story at:

McKoy finds peace in corps post*

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McKoy finds peace in corps post

By LYNN BONNER, Staff Writer

Henry McKoy, when he travels to African countries to talk to heads of state and American ambassadors about Peace Corps operations there, relishes visits with the agency's volunteers in the field. And those volunteers from North Carolina appreciate seeing someone from home.

"To go to a country and see North Carolinians -- they ask me do I know where Cary is, Rocky Mount and Fayetteville. And I know."

Of course he does.

McKoy, 56, is one of the best-known African-American Republicans in North Carolina. He used his political connections and familiarity with Africa to snag a plum job last year in President Bush's administration, overseeing Peace Corps operations in 27 countries as the agency's administrator for Africa.

McKoy spends most of his workweek in Washington, commuting to his home in Raleigh on weekends.

But he was back in North Carolina for several days this month on a mission to increase Peace Corps membership by broadening its appeal to students at historically black universities and at community colleges.

McKoy visited administrators at N.C. Central University in Durham and at St. Augustine's College and Shaw University in Raleigh, and he presented a certificate to officials at UNC-Chapel Hill -- one of the universities the Peace Corps relies on to fill its volunteer roster.

McKoy's recruitment mission to North Carolina was a special assignment. Usually, he's responsible for activities thousands of miles from the home office. Nearly 2,500 of the Peace Corps' volunteers, more than one-third of the worldwide total, are in African countries.

In the past year, McKoy has visited a dozen African countries, played an instrumental part in expanding Peace Corps operations into three counties and coordinated the evacuation of volunteers from two -- Madagascar and Ivory Coast -- because of civil unrest.

Though he had visited African countries since 1996 as a member of the Africa Development Foundation board, a group that advises the U.S. government on aid, his responsibilities for U.S. connections with Africa are greatly expanded in his new post.

After Bush highlighted HIV/AIDS in Africa in his State of the Union address, McKoy met with the president's staff to talk about what the Peace Corps has done in AIDS education.

Peace Corps volunteers differ from most Americans living in Africa in that they live mostly in small communities, not major cities. And every volunteer sent to Africa is trained in HIV/AIDS education and prevention.

"A big challenge in launching the president's initiative is education," McKoy said. "The Peace Corps does not go home at 5 o'clock. It is a key cog to getting to the most remote areas."

McKoy has seen volunteers confronting the high rates of HIV infection and AIDS-related deaths in Africa directly, through education, and indirectly in other projects.

On a visit to a community outside Johannesburg, South Africa, he talked with a 69-year-old Peace Corps volunteer who organized a grandmothers' group to help find homes for orphans whose parents died of AIDS.

There are moments of personal satisfaction for McKoy, too, as an African-American traveling and working in Africa.

"It brings enormous joy to be a part of something that involves, on some level, reconnecting to your past," McKoy said. "There have been times that I've stood on the shores of West Africa, where slaves left, outside of Ghana. As I looked out on the ocean, believe me, I've reflected on my ancestors and my connection to the continent."

Finally, his 'dream job'

McKoy moved to what he calls his "dream job" after a public life in North Carolina that was sometimes trying.

He worked for years -- when he was a Democrat -- in the administration of former Gov. Jim Hunt. After Hunt's Republican successor, Jim Martin, took office in 1986, McKoy switched his party affiliation to the GOP and stayed on in the state Department of Administration.

In 1994, he won a state Senate seat, becoming the first black Republican elected to the General Assembly since Reconstruction. In 1996, President Clinton appointed McKoy to the Africa Development Foundation board.

McKoy ran twice unsuccessfully for statewide office, most recently for state treasurer in 2000.

Some of his friends never fully accepted McKoy's party switch, said Al Perry, who has known McKoy for years.

"Henry's a very smart man," said Perry, who is president of the Raleigh-Wake Citizens Association, a black political group. "He wasn't one of the top leaders of the Raleigh area due to the fact that he was Republican."

McKoy worked closely with Southeast Raleigh residents in the district during his term as a state senator, Perry said.

"He has personality, and he can deal with people," Perry said. "He doesn't carry himself on his own shoulders as a lot of people do. He's down to earth with everyone."

But McKoy's 1996 comment to the citizens association about supporting conservative Republican icon Jesse Helms for U.S. Senate over Harvey Gantt, a black Democrat, damaged his chances at re-election that year, Perry said.

"I think that was a big downfall," Perry said. "I think that got him in Dutch with many of his personal friends."

There were other setbacks.

In 1997, McKoy withdrew his name from appointment to the University of North Carolina Board of Governors. By state law, no member of the board, or his or her spouse, may be employed by the state or the university system. McKoy had signed a statement certifying that neither he nor his wife was "an employee of the state of North Carolina," even though Katie McKoy worked for the state Office of Personnel and had for years.

Pulling up stakes?

Katie McKoy retired recently, and the McKoys, who have two adult daughters, are weighing whether they will maintain two households, one in the Washington area and one in Raleigh.

Henry McKoy, a graduate of N.C. A&T State University, still goes to Aggie football games in Greensboro and keeps in touch with friends in North Carolina. When he walks through downtown Raleigh, people stop him on the street and ask how he's doing.

It would be hard to leave a place he knows so well and where he's so well-known, he said, but the center of his professional life has shifted north and east.

"I'm in the right place doing the right thing at the right time of my life," McKoy said. "It is the hope that the work that I do during the time that I'm here, I can look back at the end of it and say that this was worthwhile."

Henry McKoy

DATE OF BIRTH: June 10, 1946


FAMILY: Wife, Katie, and two daughters

EDUCATION: N.C. A&T State University, bachelor's degree in political science and master's degree in history education

BOOK ON THE NIGHTSTAND: "Who Owns History?" by Eric Foner

WHAT HE DOES FOR FUN: Writes poetry

Staff writer Lynn Bonner can be reached at 829-4821 or lbonner@newsobserver.com.

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