Carol Ritter, who died on July 15th, was a member of Peace Corps Panama ’67. We all called her Carol Angel, for reasons that I don’t remember. In the email announcing her death her sister referred to her as Carol Angel too, so maybe it was a family nickname.
One of the other volunteers called her “the glue that held us all together”, which is just right. Carol’s job during out two-year stint was to work in the Peace Corps office in Panama City. She worried endlessly about all of us out in the field. In those early days of the Peace Corps the mantra was pretty much you-knew-what-you-were-getting-into-so-tough-it-out-and-don’t-whine. If we got any TLC at all, it was from Carol. She was fun, witty, and a mother hen in the best sense of the word.
When her family sent word of her death into our informal email network the assumption was that we would all care, even after 45 years, and we all do. I only saw Carol once after we left Panama in 1969, at a Peace Corps reunion in Washington, D.C. No matter. I am saddened by her death.
Peace Corps was one of those experiences that created intense bonds among its members. We were together constantly during our three months of training in Puerto Rico before being sent in-country, and it was there the bonds were formed. We were “on” six days a week: five hours a day of language training, Outward Bound level physical training, classes on culture and history of Panama, classes on principles of community development, training in tropical agriculture, and who remembers what else. We were busy from early in the morning until night, with Sunday our only free day to write a letter, catch up on sleep, or walk over to Tomasito’s shack across the road for a cold beer or rum and Coke.
Once in Panama we were scattered like buckshot around the country. You saw people in your own province, but rarely saw the whole group. As a Coclesana I might run across someone from Boquete on a random trip into Panama City, but there was nothing planned or intentional. Remember that this was pre-cell phone or any phones for that matter, pre-email, pretty much pre anything that would make getting together easy or predictable.
But we all went into Panama City at least now and again, and in the city was our Carol Angel.
Rest in peace, my friend.