Hazel R. O'Leary

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Hazel O'Leary
Hazel O'Leary.jpg
7th United States Secretary of Energy
In office
January 22, 1993 – January 20, 1997
President Bill Clinton
Preceded by James Watkins
Succeeded by Federico Peña
Personal details
Born Hazel Reid
(1937-05-17) May 17, 1937 (age 80)
Newport News, Virginia, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Carl Rollins (Divorced)
Max Robinson (Divorced)
John O'Leary (1980–1987)
Children 1
Education Fisk University (BA)
Rutgers University, Newark (LLB)[1]

Hazel Reid O'Leary (born May 17, 1937) was the seventh United States Secretary of Energy, from 1993 to 1997, appointed by President Bill Clinton. As of 2015, she is the first and only woman and first and only African American to hold the position. She served as president of Fisk University, a historically black college (HBCU), from 2004 to 2012.

O'Leary received her bachelor's degree from Fisk before earning her Bachelor of Laws degree from Rutgers School of Law. O'Leary then worked as a prosecutor in New Jersey. She worked in a private consulting/accounting firm before joining the Carter Administration. O'Leary returned to the private sector and rejoined the government as the first Secretary of Energy of the Clinton administration.

Early life and education[edit]

Hazel Reid was born in Newport News, Virginia. Hazel's parents, Dr. Russel E. Reid and Dr. Hazel Reid were both physicians.[2][3][4] They when she was 18 months old. Her father and step-mother Mattie, a teacher, raised Hazel and her older sister Edna Reid.[2][5]:506 Hazel attended school in a segregated school system in Newport News for eight years.[2][5]:506 Hazel and her sister were then sent to live with an aunt in Essex County, New Jersey and attend Arts Hight School, an integrated school.[2][5]:506 She earned a bachelor's degree at Fisk University in Nashville in 1959.[5]:506 She then married Carl Rollins and had a son before returning to school and earning her Bachelor of Laws degree from Rutgers School of Law in 1966.[5]:506


O'Leary worked as a prosecutor in New Jersey prosecuting organized crime cases.[4] Next she became an assistant attorney general.[5]:507 O'Leary got a divorce and in 1969 moved to Washington, D.C. where she joined the consulting/accounting firm of Coopers & Lybrand.[2][5]:507 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.[4]

In 1981, O'Leary and her husband established the consulting firm of O'Leary & Associates in Morristown, New Jersey, where she served as vice president and general counsel.[6] After Jack died of cancer, Hazel moved to Minnesota.[4] From 1989 to 1993, she worked as an executive vice president of the Northern States Power Company, a Minnesota based public utilities company which served approximately 1.6 million customers.[6][7]

Secretary of Energy[edit]

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

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.[8] Clinton officially made the nomination on January 20, 1993, and the Senate confirmed O'Leary by unanimous consent the next day.[4][9] O'Leary became the first woman to serve as Secretary of Energy.[10] She was also the first Secretary of Energy to have worked for an energy company.[11] At the time she led the Department of Energy, the department had an annual budget of $18 million.[12]

In this position, O'Leary won plaudits for declassifying Cold War-era records, which showed the U.S. Government had used American citizens as guinea pigs in human radiation experiments, as had long been rumored. President Clinton issued Executive Order 12891, which created the Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments (ACHRE) to prevent such abuses of power.[13] O'Leary also pushed to end nuclear testing in the United States.[10] She announced a "zero tolerance" policy, prohibiting retaliation against whistle blowers at nuclear plants.[4]

During O'Leary's service, she was criticized in a Government Accountability Office audit of traveling too frequently and spending too much on accommodations.[14][15] She apologized to Congressional committees in 1996 for spending which exceeded limits on the funds appropriated to the agency for travel, and resigned in January 1997.

In 1997 Johnny Chung, a Democratic political donor, claimed that O'Leary met with Chinese oil officials after he gave $25,000 to O'Leary's favorite charity Africare in 1995. FBI director Louis Freeh urged an independent investigation. Attorney General Janet Reno determined there was "no evidence" of wrongdoing by O'Leary.[16] Some observes, including a lawyer for the Government Accountability Project, saw some fault in O'Leary's conduct but also saw racism and sexism in the manner in way O'Leary was treated.[4]

After leaving the Department of Energy, O'Leary once again served as President of O'Leary & Associates, her consulting firm.[17] She also sat on the board of environmental engineering firm ICF Kaiser International.[18] In 2000, she became President and Chief Operating Officer of an investment banking firm, Blaylock & Partners.[17]

Fisk University[edit]

In 2004, O'Leary was selected as President of her undergraduate alma mater, Fisk University, a historically black college in Nashville, Tennessee. As president, O'Leary tried to help the university recapture its place in competing for top students and financial support, and attract outstanding faculty. The University continued to struggle to build its endowment.[19]

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

One way O'Leary tried to help the school improve its finances was through the sale of a portion of the University's Alfred Stieglitz Collection.[20][19] The collection was bequeathed to Fisk by his widow and fellow artist Georgia O'Keeffe on the condition that it never be sold. Fisk received proposal from a museum in Arkansas to purchase a half-share.

Fisk appealed to the Chancery Court to be released from the condition prohibiting sale. The court directed the State Attorney General to develop an alternative plan to keep the collection in Nashville and the state. In September 2010 Attorney General Bob D. Cooper proposed the collection be transferred to the Tennessee Arts Commission and housed at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville.[21][dead link] Ultimately, the school was able to reach a deal with Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas to share the collection.[22]

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 on the sale in 2016. O'Leary defended the decision to sell the art work as necessary to keep the university open amid financial difficulties.[22]

In 2012 she announced that she would retire at the end of the calendar year.[23] She was succeeded at Fisk by H. James Williams.[24]

Other affiliations[edit]

O'Lear serves as a Director for Alchemix Corp. and CAMAC International Corporation. She also serves on the Board of Directors for non-profit organizations such as Nashville Alliance for Public Education, Nashville Business Community for the Arts, and Arms Control Association as well as a Trustee on boards of the World Wildlife Fund, Morehouse College, and The Andrew Young Center of International Development.[1]

Marriage and family[edit]

Reid married Carl G. Rollins, Jr., with whom she had a son, also named Carl.[25] They later divorced. Her second marriage to ABC News anchorman Max Robinson did not last long.[2] In 1977 she met John F. O'Leary, then Deputy Secretary of Energy.[2] The pair married on April 24, 1980[citation needed] and remained married until his death from cancer.[2]


  1. ^ a b "Executive Profile: Hazel O'Leary". Bloomberg. Retrieved June 25, 2017. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Harringon, Linda M. (May 1, 1994). "No Pie In The Sky". tribunedigital-chicagotribune. Retrieved 2017-06-25. 
  3. ^ Finkelman, Paul, ed. (2009). Encyclopedia of African American History Volume 4. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 11. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Henneberger, Melinda (November 24, 1997). "Ex-Official Now Looks To Church For Solace". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved June 22, 2017. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Smith, Jessie Carney (1996). Notable Black American Women. VNR AG. ISBN 9780810391772. 
  6. ^ a b Stych, Ed (December 22, 1992). "Energy Secretary Candidate Has Experience as Regulator, Executive". www.questia.com. The Journal Record. Retrieved 2017-06-22. 
  7. ^ Scott, Matthew S. (March 1993). "The New Powers That Be: The Clinton Challenge" Vol. 23, Issue 8,". www.questia.com. Black Enterprise. Retrieved June 22, 2017. 
  8. ^ Ifill, Gwen (December 22, 1992). "The Transition; Clinton Chooses 2 and Delpores Idea of Cabinet Quotas". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved July 2, 2017. 
  9. ^ "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. 
  10. ^ 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. 
  11. ^ 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. 
  12. ^ "Black Clout in the Clinton Administration" Vol. 48, Issue 7". www.questia.com. Ebony. May 1993. Retrieved June 25, 2017. 
  13. ^ "Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents Volume 30 Issue 3 (Monday, January 24, 1994)". www.gpo.gov. Retrieved June 22, 2017. 
  14. ^ 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. Retrieved 2008-02-03. 
  15. ^ Lee, Gary (January 5, 1996). "GAO Report Blasts O'Leary On Sloppy Travel Records". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2008-02-03. 
  16. ^ 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 2008-02-03. 
  17. ^ a b "Hazel R. O'Leary: Executive Profile & Biography - Bloomberg". www.bloomberg.com. Retrieved September 14, 2017. 
  18. ^ "Former Energy Secretary Under Scrutiny". www.cnn.com. September 29, 1997. Retrieved September 14, 2017. 
  19. ^ a b Schelzig, Erik (December 28, 2007). "Historically Black College Struggles Financially". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved June 22, 2017. 
  20. ^ 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. 
  21. ^ Jennifer Brooks, "AG Unveils Plan to Keep Fisk Art in Nashville", The Tennesseean, September 10, 2010; accessed September 13, 2010
  22. ^ a b Tamburin, Adam (July 27, 2016). "Fisk University leaders justify 2010 sale of paintings". The Tennessean. Retrieved 2017-08-23. 
  23. ^ "O'Leary to continue helping Fisk after retirement". Arkansas Online. February 21, 2012. Retrieved June 25, 2017. 
  24. ^ "Report: Fisk University selects next president". nashvillecitypaper.com. Retrieved June 25, 2017. 
  25. ^ "Hazel O'Leary", NNDb profile, Soylent Communications

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
James Watkins
United States Secretary of Energy
Succeeded by
Federico Peña