Carl Erik Olson (T-1)

April 1996

In April [1996] Turkey-1 lost two of Peace Corps/Turkey’s original members, Elise Lauren and Erik Olson.

Erik was a graduate of Williams College and received a Ph. D in immunology following his Peace Corps service as a TEFL teacher Ceyhan and Sivas.  His career in health research included a number of assignments at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland Health Facilities in Baltimore.

I was always fascinated by what appeared to me to be Erik’s life task . . . working in a scientific world by day and letting his humanistic spirit and sense of adventure concerning the world at large express itself the rest of the time.  C. P. Snow’s characters had nothing on him!

Erik loved the Peace Corps, and his memories of life in Turkey ranked very high on his list of life experiences.  He was a teacher beloved by his students, as his Ceyhan roommate Steve Allen reaffirmed in a return to Ceyhan several years ago.  His friends will long remember Eric’s gentleness of spirit and demeanor. 

Several years ago Erik sent me a book describing Jason’s search for the Golden Fleece along the Black Sea coast. It was a fitting description of Erik’s life-long search and his own trips across Anatolia. Ever onward, dear voyager, and peace!

Erik is survived by his wonderful wife of thirty years, Valerie Olson.
                                                                       — Dave Weinman, April 1996


Erik Olson, Williams ’62, Peace Corps/Turkey 1, Ph.D., Treasured Member of the team of Erik and Val, A GENTLE MAN  who combined application of the scientific method with a visionary view of the world beyond his immediate purview! 

I first met Erik on the tarmac of Esenboğa airport in Ankara, a tired member, after that long 13 hour flight, of a group to become renowned as Turkey 1. I will never forget that first group, as I will not forget the diverse personalities that comprised it. Erik shared a special place then as he does now in the hearts of us here. His first year he went to Ceyhan in southern Turkey and taught English to large unruly classes of 90 students. It was not easy, but one sensed that Erik really loved that time. His second year he volunteered as a teacher in Sivas, as the Peace Corps program expanded. Not long after completing the Peace Corps he remained in Turkey, long enough to meet Valerie, a “find” rivaling the best of Turkey’s archeological digs!

I have always been fascinated by what to me appeared to be Erik’s life task … working in a scientific world by day and letting his humanistic spirit and sense of adventure concerning the world at large express itself the rest of the time. One could positively see Erik’s eyes light up at our periodic Peace Corps reunions, as his friends discussed their past and future travels, and it was easy to see him on the next plane to wherever. Several years ago he sent me a book retracing Jason’s search for the golden fleece, a trip not surprisingly along much of Turkey’s northern coast. It was easy to read and envision Erik preparing some day to take that trip!

In the dichotomy of his worlds I am reminded of characters out of C.P. Snow’s novels combining the different cultures of science and the humanities. There was one exception for Erik, however. He did not seek to enter Snow’s corridors of power. He always appeared to stand removed from the competitiveness and ego of scientific grantsmanship. The beauty of Erik Olson was the gentleness with which he approached people and life. In a time of increasing random violence it is wonderful to know individuals who bring the kind of gentleness that Erik displayed. His gentleness, moreover, was not a descriptor for not caring how life went. Erik cared a lot, and I think his friends have never underestimated that. He was most alive, though, when he was involved literally or pensively in what was going on “out there”.

People knew Erik cared. Steve Allen related a story last night of his return to Ceyhan a few years ago. Steve was amazed with how much detail the local people so affectionately asked about Erik. The Peace Corps for Erik was, is, and will have been his grand adventure. Perhaps in his own inimitable style he had already found the golden fleece, and the rest was postscript. What one knows for sure is that when Peace Corps/Turkey people return to that motherland, Erik’s spirt will be there, just as certainly as the next time I go to an Orioles game I will look closely at who is next to me. It could be Erik. At our Turkish reunion last summer for all groups, I quoted Oliver Wendell Holmes’ dictum: “Have faith and pursue the unknown end”. That was the Peace Corps, and that was Erik! Ever onward dear voyager and peace!!!

Association of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and Friends of Turkey