Hazel R. O'Leary

This is a good article. Click here for more information.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Hazel O'Leary
7th United States Secretary of Energy
In office
January 22, 1993 – January 20, 1997
PresidentBill Clinton
DeputyBill White
Charles B. Curtis
Preceded byJames D. Watkins
Succeeded byFederico Peña
14th President of Fisk University
In office
July 13, 2004 – January 31, 2013
Preceded byCarolynn Reid-Wallace
Succeeded byJames Williams
Personal details
Hazel Reid

(1937-05-17) May 17, 1937 (age 87)
Newport News, Virginia, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Carl Rollins (divorced)
Max Robinson (divorced)
(m. 1980; died 1987)
EducationFisk University (BA)
Rutgers University, Newark (LLB)

Hazel Reid O'Leary (born May 17, 1937) is an American lawyer, politician and university administrator who served as the 7th United States secretary of energy from 1993 to 1997. A member of the Democratic Party, O'Leary was the first woman and first African American to hold that post. She also served as the 14th president of Fisk University from 2004 to 2013, a historically black college and her alma mater. O'Leary's tenure at Fisk came amid financial difficulty for the school, during which time she increased enrollment and contentiously used the school's art collection to raise funds.

O'Leary received her bachelor's degree from Fisk before earning her Bachelor of Laws degree from Rutgers School of Law. O'Leary worked as a prosecutor in New Jersey and then in a private consulting/accounting firm before joining the Carter administration. O'Leary returned to the private sector and rejoined the government as secretary of energy under President Bill Clinton. During her tenure, she declassified documents detailing how the United States had conducted secret testing on the effects of radiation on unsuspecting American citizens. She also received criticism for her excessive spending while in office.

Early life and education[edit]

Hazel Reid was born in Newport News, Virginia. Her parents, Russel E. Reid and Hazel Reid, were both physicians.[1][2][3] They divorced when she was 18 months old.[4] Her father and stepmother, a teacher named Mattie Pullman Reid, raised Hazel and her older sister Edna Reid,[1][4] primarily in the East End neighborhood.[5] Hazel attended school in a segregated school system in Newport News for eight years.[1][6] She and her sister were then sent to live with an aunt in Essex County, New Jersey, and attend Arts High School, an integrated school.[1][6] She earned a bachelor's degree at Fisk University in Nashville in 1959.[6] She then married Carl Rollins and had a son before returning to school and earning her Bachelor of Laws degree from Rutgers Law School in Newark in 1966.[6]


Early career[edit]

O'Leary worked as a prosecutor in New Jersey on organized crime cases,[3] later becoming an assistant attorney general for the state.[6] In 1969, after obtaining a divorce, O'Leary moved to Washington, D.C., where she joined the consulting/accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand.[1][6] During the Carter administration, O'Leary was appointed assistant administrator of the Federal Energy Administration, general counsel of the Community Services Administration, and administrator of the Economic Regulatory Administration at the newly created Department of Energy. At the Department of Energy, Hazel met her third husband, Jack O'Leary.[3]

In 1981 O'Leary and her husband established the consulting firm O'Leary & Associates in Morristown, New Jersey, where she served as vice president and general counsel.[7] After Jack died of cancer, Hazel moved to Minnesota.[3] From 1989 to 1993 she worked as an executive vice president of the Northern States Power Company, a Minnesota-based public utilities.[7][8]

Secretary of Energy[edit]

In a press conference on December 21, 1992, held in Little Rock, Arkansas, then President-elect Bill Clinton announced his intention to nominate O'Leary as Secretary of Energy.[9] Clinton officially made the nomination on January 20, 1993, and the Senate confirmed O'Leary by unanimous consent the next day.[10][3][11] O'Leary became the first woman and first African American to serve as Secretary of Energy.[12][13] She was also the first Secretary of Energy to have worked for an energy company.[14] At the time she led the Department of Energy, it had an annual budget of $18 billion[15] and approximately 18,000 employees.[16]

Left to right: Secretary of Energy Hazel R. O'Leary, John S. Foster, President Bill Clinton, and Mrs. John Foster

O'Leary challenged the way the department had traditionally been run, particularly its focus on developing and testing nuclear weapons. During her tenure, the size of the Department of Energy was reduced by a third. It was also a target for Republicans who wanted it eliminated.[17][16] While reducing the size of the department overall, O'Leary shifted resources toward efficient and renewable energy sources,[18] a priority of the Clinton administration.[16]

In this position, O'Leary won praise for declassifying old Department of Energy documents,[17][19] including Cold War-era records that showed the U.S. government had used American citizens as guinea pigs in human radiation experiments, as had long been rumored.[17] Clinton issued Executive Order 12891, which created the Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments (ACHRE) to prevent such abuses of power.[20] O'Leary also announced a $4.6 million settlement payment to the families of victims of past radiation experiments.[17] Other declassified documents included facts about plutonium the United States had left in South Vietnam.[19]

O'Leary also pushed to end nuclear testing in the United States.[12] Her efforts resulted in Clinton signing a test ban on nuclear testing, a ban that other nations joined.[17] Early in her tenure as secretary, O'Leary met with whistle-blowers who said they faced harassment for raising legitimate health and safety issues within the Department of Energy.[4] She announced a "zero tolerance" policy, prohibiting retaliation against whistle-blowers at nuclear plants.[3]

O'Leary repeatedly faced criticism during her tenure. The department allocated $43,500 to a Washington firm to identify unfriendly media outlets. White House Press Secretary Michael D. McCurry called the project "unacceptable."[17] O'Leary claimed the allocation was made without her direct knowledge and defended the research as an attempt to study the efficacy of the department's messaging.[21] A Government Accountability Office audit of travel criticized her for traveling too frequently and spending excessively on accommodations.[22][23] She apologized to Congressional committees in 1996 for spending that exceeded limits on the funds appropriated to the agency for travel.[24]

O'Leary resigned from her position effective January 20, 1997,[25] explaining she did not wish to stay in the job more than four years.[19] In 1997, Johnny Chung, a Democratic political donor, claimed that O'Leary had met with Chinese oil officials after he gave $25,000 to O'Leary's favorite charity, Africare, in 1995.[26] In August of that year, Attorney General Janet Reno reviewed Chung's allegations to decide whether to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate O'Leary.[27] Reno determined there was "no evidence" of wrongdoing by O'Leary and no basis for a further investigation.[26] Some observers, including a lawyer for the Government Accountability Project, saw some fault in O'Leary's conduct but also saw racism and sexism in the way she was treated.[3]


After leaving the Clinton administration, O'Leary once again served as president of O'Leary & Associates, her consulting firm.[28] She also sat on the board of the environmental engineering firm ICF Kaiser International.[29] In 2000 she became president and chief operating officer of an investment banking firm, Blaylock & Partners.[28] She left that firm in 2002.[24]

Fisk University president[edit]

On July 13, 2004, O'Leary was selected and began work as president of her undergraduate alma mater, Fisk University, a historically black college in Nashville, Tennessee.[30][31] She was officially installed as the university's 14th president on October 6, 2005.[32] Before O'Leary's tenure, the university had tried unsuccessfully to increase its enrollment and experienced financial problems.[33] In 2008 Fisk had an enrollment of 770 students and 264 faculty and staff members.[34][35]

O'Leary speaks on September 24, 2013, at the Minorities in Energy Initiative Launch.

By 2011 Fisk's enrollment numbers improved,[35] but the school was still operating with a loss in six of the previous nine years.[35] These ongoing financial problems caused the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) to place Fisk on probation in 2010 over concerns for the university's finances and prospects.[36][37] The probation ended in December 2013.[36]

Under O'Leary's leadership, Fisk went to court in December 2005 seeking a ruling that it could sell a portion of the university's Alfred Stieglitz Collection.[38][33] Stieglitz's widow Georgia O'Keeffe had bequeathed the collection to Fisk with restrictions on its sale. O'Leary intended to use the proceeds of the sale to fund a new academic building, endow professorships, and rebuild the school's endowment, which had been drawn down several times before her arrival.[39] The Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation opposed the sale, and later the Tennessee State Attorney General opposed any sale of the artwork out of state.[38] Ultimately, after seven years of legal battles, the school was able to reach a deal with Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas to share the collection. At the time the deal was finalized, O'Leary said the arrangement was essential to keeping the university open.[40]

Amidst the public battle over attempts to sell the Alfred Stieglitz Collection, O'Leary quietly arranged to sell two other works of art, including a work by Florine Stettheimer. Fisk's board of trustees approved the sale in 2010 although it was not publicly disclosed until The New York Times reported it in 2016. O'Leary defended the decision to sell the artwork, saying it was done out of necessity amid financial difficulties.[40]

In 2012 O'Leary announced that she would retire at the end of the calendar year.[41] Her retirement was effective January 31, 2013.[42] She was succeeded by H. James Williams.[43]

Other affiliations[edit]

O'Leary has served as a director for Alchemix Corp. and CAMAC International Corporation. She also served on the board of directors for nonprofit organizations such as the Nashville Alliance for Public Education, the Nashville Business Community for the Arts, and the Arms Control Association, and as a trustee on boards of the World Wildlife Fund, Morehouse College, and The Andrew Young Center of International Development.[28]

Personal life[edit]

O'Leary has been married three times.[4] Her first marriage to Carl G. Rollins, Jr., ended in divorce. The couple had a son, also named Carl. O'Leary was briefly married to ABC News anchorman Max Robinson. In 1977 she met John F. O'Leary, then Deputy Secretary of Energy.[1] They married on April 24, 1980, and remained married until his death from cancer in 1987.[16][1] Her son is an attorney.[4]

In 1997 O'Leary joined a Presbyterian Church.[3] She is a member of The Links.[44]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Harringon, Linda M. (May 1, 1994). "No Pie In The Sky". tribunedigital-chicagotribune. Archived from the original on September 15, 2017. Retrieved June 25, 2017.
  2. ^ Finkelman, Paul, ed. (2009). Encyclopedia of African American History Volume 4. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 11.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Henneberger, Melinda (November 24, 1997). "Ex-Official Now Looks To Church For Solace". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on September 15, 2017. Retrieved June 22, 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d e L. Haywood, Richette (February 1995). Ebony. Johnson Publishing Company. pp. 98, 100.
  5. ^ Di Vincenzo, Mark (1994-04-04). "High Profile: Hazel O'Leary". dailypress.com. Archived from the original on 2020-06-13. Retrieved 2020-06-13.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Smith, Jessie Carney (1996). Notable Black American Women. VNR AG. pp. 506–507. ISBN 9780810391772. Archived from the original on 2021-12-19. Retrieved 2020-11-11.
  7. ^ a b Stych, Ed (December 22, 1992). "Energy Secretary Candidate Has Experience as Regulator, Executive". The Journal Record. Archived from the original on September 29, 2017. Retrieved August 29, 2017.
  8. ^ Scott, Matthew S. (March 1993). "The New Powers That Be: The Clinton Challenge" Vol. 23, Issue 8". Black Enterprise. Archived from the original on 2017-09-29. Retrieved 2017-08-29.
  9. ^ Ifill, Gwen (December 22, 1992). "The Transition; Clinton Chooses 2 and Delpores Idea of Cabinet Quotas". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on September 15, 2017. Retrieved July 2, 2017.
  10. ^ Nelson, Michael (October 23, 2012). The Presidency A to Z. CQ Press. p. 666. ISBN 9781452234304. Archived from the original on December 19, 2021. Retrieved October 12, 2017.
  11. ^ "PN76-12 - Nomination of Hazel Rollins O'Leary for Department of Energy, 103rd Congress (1993-1994)". www.congress.gov. January 21, 1993. Retrieved June 22, 2017.
  12. ^ a b Letzter, Rafi (December 22, 2016). "Here are the qualifications of all 13 people who served as Secretary of Energy before Rick Perry". Business Insider. Retrieved June 22, 2017.
  13. ^ Bittner, Drew (March 17, 2016). "Women @ Energy – Secretary Hazel O'Leary". Energy.gov. Archived from the original on October 12, 2017. Retrieved October 12, 2017.
  14. ^ Friedman, Thomas L. (December 27, 1992). "THE TRANSITION; Clinton's Cabinet Choices Put Him at Center, Balancing Competing Factions". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved September 15, 2017.
  15. ^ "Black Clout in the Clinton Administration" Vol. 48, Issue 7". Ebony. May 1993. Archived from the original on 2017-09-15. Retrieved 2017-08-29.
  16. ^ a b c d Feder, Barnaby J. (December 22, 1992). "New Energy Chief Has Seen 2 Sides of Regulatory Fence". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-10-12.
  17. ^ a b c d e f Warren, James (November 24, 1996). "Hazel O'Leary's Legacy: Ruffled Feathers, A Good Record". tribunedigital-chicagotribune. Retrieved October 11, 2017.
  18. ^ Reuter (April 6, 1993). "O'Leary's Revamped Policy Stresses Efficiency, Renewable Energy Sources". www.joc.com. Retrieved October 11, 2017.
  19. ^ a b c Wald, Matthew L. (January 20, 1997). "Power Is Underpriced, Energy Secretary Says". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved October 12, 2017.
  20. ^ "Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents Volume 30 Issue 3 (Monday, January 24, 1994)". www.gpo.gov. Retrieved June 22, 2017.
  21. ^ Lewis, Neil a (November 10, 1995). "Energy Secretary Used Fund to Monitor Reporters". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved October 12, 2017.
  22. ^ Thomas, Pierre (January 4, 1996). "Energy Dept. Travel Examined; GAO Audit Cites Lax Accounting for O'Leary Trips to India, S. Africa". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on October 19, 2012. Retrieved 2008-02-03.
  23. ^ Lee, Gary (January 5, 1996). "GAO Report Blasts O'Leary On Sloppy Travel Records". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2008-02-03.
  24. ^ a b Ford, Lynne E. (May 12, 2010). Encyclopedia of Women and American Politics. Infobase Publishing. pp. 349–350. ISBN 9781438110325.
  25. ^ "Hazel O'Leary - Collection Finding Aid · Clinton Digital Library". clinton.presidentiallibraries.us. Retrieved October 12, 2017.
  26. ^ a b Stout, David (December 3, 1997). "The Attorney General's Decision: The O'Leary Case; Reno Backs Former Energy Secretary's Denials of Wrongdoing". New York Times. Retrieved February 3, 2008.
  27. ^ Lacayo, Richard (September 29, 1997). "AllPolitics - Reno Focuses On The President - Sep. 29, 1997". www.cnn.com. Retrieved December 22, 2017.
  28. ^ a b c "Executive Profile: Hazel O'Leary". Bloomberg. Archived from the original on September 14, 2017. Retrieved June 25, 2017.
  29. ^ "Former Energy Secretary Under Scrutiny". www.cnn.com. September 29, 1997. Archived from the original on December 22, 2018. Retrieved September 14, 2017.
  30. ^ "Office of the President". Fisk.edu. Archived from the original on August 2, 2003. Retrieved October 14, 2017.
  31. ^ "Hazel O'Leary, 14th President of Fisk University". fisk.edu. July 13, 2004. Archived from the original on March 6, 2005. Retrieved December 8, 2017.
  32. ^ "Fisk University at 150: A look back at the past 50 years". The Tennessean. February 15, 2016. Retrieved October 13, 2017.
  33. ^ a b Schelzig, Erik (December 28, 2007). "Historically Black College Struggles Financially". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Archived from the original on February 12, 2017. Retrieved June 22, 2017.
  34. ^ Tusk Hinton Architects (October 2008). "Fisk University Master Plan" (PDF). www.nashville.gov. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2017-02-01. Retrieved 2017-12-08.
  35. ^ a b c Greenberg, Pierce (December 11, 2011). "Financially challenged Fisk will turn to fundraising, students to raise $8.4M by July". nashvillecitypaper.com. Archived from the original on 2017-12-08. Retrieved December 8, 2017.
  36. ^ a b Stuart, Reginald (December 10, 2013). "Fisk, Florida A&M Get Clean Bills of Health from Accreditation Group". diverseeducation.com. Retrieved December 8, 2017.
  37. ^ "Hazel O'Leary to Retire From Presidency of Fisk University". jbhe.com. February 20, 2012. Archived from the original on December 8, 2017. Retrieved December 8, 2017.
  38. ^ a b Brooks, Jennifer (September 2, 2010). "The Root: Can Selling O'Keefe's Art Save A University?". NPR.org. Archived from the original on 2012-01-15. Retrieved June 25, 2017.
  39. ^ Hassell, Bravetta (August 16, 2006). "College Argues For the Right To Sell Art Gifts To Raise Capital". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Archived from the original on March 2, 2017. Retrieved October 14, 2017.
  40. ^ a b Tamburin, Adam (July 27, 2016). "Fisk University leaders justify 2010 sale of paintings". The Tennessean. Retrieved August 23, 2017.
  41. ^ "O'Leary to continue helping Fisk after retirement". Arkansas Online. February 21, 2012. Archived from the original on October 14, 2017. Retrieved June 25, 2017.
  42. ^ Teague, Cass (March 15, 2013). "Remembering O'Leary and her legacy at Fisk University Nashville PRIDE, Inc". pridepublishinggroup.com. Archived from the original on 2017-10-14. Retrieved 2017-10-14.
  43. ^ "Report: Fisk University selects next president". nashvillecitypaper.com. Archived from the original on 2017-10-14. Retrieved June 25, 2017.
  44. ^ Graham, Lawrence Otis (2014). Our kind of people. [Place of publication not identified]: HarperCollins e-Books. p. 105. ISBN 978-0-06-187081-1. OCLC 877899803.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by United States Secretary of Energy
Succeeded by
U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded byas Former US Cabinet Member Order of precedence of the United States
as Former US Cabinet Member
Succeeded byas Former US Cabinet Member