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The Honorable Hazel O'Leary

Cabinet appointee and president of Fisk University, Hazel Rollins O’Leary was born Hazel Reid on May 17, 1937, in Newport News, Virginia to Dr. Russell Edward Reid and Hazel Palleman. Raised by her stepmother Mattie Ross Reid, O’Leary attended the Urban League’s camp in Atwater, Massachusetts every summer where she met Alma Brown and the Delany sisters. O’Leary attended Aberdeen Gardens School in Hampton, Virginia, Booker T. Washington School, John Marshall School and Huntington High School in Newport News, Virginia. O’Leary graduated from the High School of Fine and Performing Arts in Newark, New Jersey in 1955. She then graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Fisk University in 1959, at the cusp of the Civil Rights Movement. Among her teachers were Vivian Henderson, Robert Hayden, and T.S. Courier. O’Leary went on to obtain her J.D. degree from Rutgers University Law School in 1966.

From 1967 to 1969, O’Leary handled organized crime cases while serving as assistant county prosecutor in Essex County, New Jersey. Later, she joined the accounting firm of Coopers & Lybrand. During the administration of President Jimmy Carter, O’Leary acted as assistant administrator of the Federal Energy Commission, general counsel of the Community Services Administration, and an administrator for the Economic Regulatory Commission of the newly-created Department of Energy. In 1981, O’Leary and her husband formed O’Leary and Associates, 1989 to 1993, where she served as executive vice president of Northern States Power in Minnesota.

Nominated by President Bill Clinton in 1993, O’Leary became the seventh United States Secretary of Energy and the first African American woman to serve in that office. As Secretary, O’Leary changed the department’s Office of Classification to the Office of Declassification, initiated an aggressive clean-up of surplus plutonium, created an Openness Advisory Panel, and encouraged the Clinton administration to end nuclear testing in the United States. O’Leary established the Samuel P. Massie Chair of Excellence Professorship in Environmental Disciplines which benefited nine historically black colleges and universities. In 1996, O’Leary resigned and joined Blaylock and Partners, becoming CEO in 2002. In 2004, O’Leary was named President of Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee.

O’Leary served on the boards of Africare, UAL Inc. (parent company of United Airlines), Morehouse College; Alchemix Corporation; AES Corporation; The Center for Democracy; ICF Kaiser; Scottish Re, Ltd.; Nashville Chamber Orchestra; the World Wildlife Fund; Nashville Alliance for Public Education; ITC Holdings, Inc.; and Nashville Business Community for the Arts. O’Leary also received numerous honors for her work. O’Leary was widowed in 1987 and she also has one son, attorney Carl G. Rollins III.

Hazel O'Leary was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on March 15, 2007.

Accession Number

A2007.090

Sex

Female

Interview Date

3/15/2007

Last Name

O'Leary

Marital Status

Widow

Schools

Aberdeen Gardens School

John Marshall School

Booker T. Washington Middle School

Arts High School

Fisk University

Rutgers University

Huntington High School

First Name

Hazel

Birth City, State, Country

Newport News

HM ID

OLE01

Favorite Season

Spring

Sponsor

Reynaldo Glover

State

Virginia

Favorite Vacation Destination

Scuba Diving

Favorite Quote

I'm On It.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Tennessee

Birth Date

5/17/1937

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Nashville

Country

United States

Favorite Food

None

Short Description

University president and cabinet appointee The Honorable Hazel O'Leary (1937 - ) was the first African American United States Secretary of Energy and the president of Fisk University. O'Leary was also the CEO of Blaylock and Partners.

Employment

State of New Jersey

Coopers & Lybrand

Jimmy Carter administration

O’Leary and Associates

Northern States Power

Federal government of the United States

Blaylock and Partners

Fisk University

Main Sponsor
Favorite Color

Hot Pink

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of The Honorable Hazel O'Leary's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - The Honorable Hazel O'Leary lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - The Honorable Hazel O'Leary describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - The Honorable Hazel O'Leary describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - The Honorable Hazel O'Leary describes her paternal grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - The Honorable Hazel O'Leary describes her stepmother's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - The Honorable Hazel O'Leary describes her stepmother's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - The Honorable Hazel O'Leary describes her parents' personalities and who she takes after

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - The Honorable Hazel O'Leary remembers her stepmother's mother

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - The Honorable Hazel O'Leary describes her earliest childhood memories

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - The Honorable Hazel O'Leary describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - The Honorable Hazel O'Leary recalls her awareness of World War II

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - The Honorable Hazel O'Leary describes the role of church in her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - The Honorable Hazel O'Leary recalls radio and television programs

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - The Honorable Hazel O'Leary describes her early interest in reading

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - The Honorable Hazel O'Leary recalls Camp Atwater in North Brookfield, Massachusetts

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - The Honorable Hazel O'Leary recalls the Aberdeen Gardens in Hampton, Virginia

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - The Honorable Hazel O'Leary describes her elementary school experiences

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - The Honorable Hazel O'Leary remembers Collis P. Huntington High School in Newport News, Virginia

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - The Honorable Hazel O'Leary remembers the Arts High School in Newark, New Jersey

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - The Honorable Hazel O'Leary describes her activities in high school

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - The Honorable Hazel O'Leary recalls her decision to attend Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - The Honorable Hazel O'Leary remembers her experiences at Fisk University

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - The Honorable Hazel O'Leary reflects upon the social conventions of Fisk University

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - The Honorable Hazel O'Leary recalls her professors at Fisk University

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - The Honorable Hazel O'Leary describes her administration at Fisk University

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - The Honorable Hazel O'Leary describes the history of Nashville's historically black colleges

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - The Honorable Hazel O'Leary remembers Charles S. Johnson

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - The Honorable Hazel O'Leary recalls her peers at Fisk University

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - The Honorable Hazel O'Leary describes Diane Nash

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - The Honorable Hazel O'Leary recalls teaching civil rights history at Fisk University

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - The Honorable Hazel O'Leary recalls significant faculty at Fisk University

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$4

DAStory

5$1

DATitle
The Honorable Hazel O'Leary recalls her decision to attend Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee
The Honorable Hazel O'Leary describes her administration at Fisk University
Transcript
How did you choose a college? Now most of your family you say went to Hampton [Hampton University, Hampton, Virginia], right, they were Hampton people (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Oh yeah, easy. And the other half, you know, at the beginning of integration they all went to, you know, majority schools, as did my sister [Edna Reid McCollum]. She went to Cedar Crest College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. And I had three aunts who went, you know, to majority schools long ago. (Cough) I told you how close in age I was to my sister. So when I was a senior in high school [Arts High School, Newark, New Jersey], I would go up to see Cedar Crest College in Allentown, Pennsylvania to see my sister. There were three Negro women there, three. And my sense of them at Cedar Crest was that no one was mean to them, but no one knew what to do with them. And they were sort of foreign elements within the great sea. And then one weekend there was a social, yeah listen to this. The guys from Lehigh [Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania] came over to Cedar Crest College. And what I saw as these hordes of men came through, and my recollection is they may have been five Negro students from the engineering college. I will tell you that the chaperones were body blocking these black guys from talking to the white women, and the black women if it looked like, or Negro women. They were going to talk to the black, the white guys. And I thought to myself, and said so, why would I want to be in a place where A, apparently nobody really likes me, and B, someone is afraid that there will be this romantic flicker? So from that experience I go well, I guess I'm going to a Negro college. And I had a cousin here, recall though, my father [Russell Reid] and my birth mother [Hazel Pallemon Reagan] had gone to Meharry [Meharry Medical College, Nashville, Tennessee], so I said, "Hm, I think I'm going to Fisk [Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee]." And in the family, you know, among all of those first cousins, the routine was each kid ready for college would be given enough money to apply to ten schools. I took my ten school money, I applied to Fisk, and I went shopping with the rest of it. And then I thought, what would I have done if I hadn't been admitted? I guess I would have had to go to Hampton. I think they would have taken me there, but I was admitted to Fisk. And I was happy here, and yeah I loved Fisk, yeah, yeah.$$Okay. So was it, was a change from high school. So you went from a segregated school in Newport News [Virginia] to an integrated--$$Yeah, to an integrated school.$$And then to, now to Fisk--$$Take me to where they're gonna love me.$$So you graduated from high school in '55 [1955]?$$Um-hm, '55 [1955], yeah.$$Okay, so you came here the fall of--$$I came in August really. And my father brought me here, which was very interesting. My introduction to life at Fisk involved opening a dresser drawer in my dorm room in Jubilee Hall and having a huge thing fly out of the drawer (makes sound). It was a flying cockroach. My father stood there laughing and said, "Welcome to the real world."$So you were reflecting on your student days at Fisk [Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee] and comparing them to what's going on now at Fisk.$$Oh yeah, and I was--my insight is that there is still this deep involvement of faculty and administration and the lives and comportment of the kids. And I think it's a heavier burden today because they come with -- I'm just talking of my own sense of rebellion. But they come not understanding the boundaries. So they need, they need attention but it can't be heavy attention. And it's interesting, you don't see it, but we have a set of values at Fisk. We celebrate diversity, excellence, teamwork, accountability, integrity, leadership and service. And the reason we thought we should come up with the DETAILS, someone else pulled the acronym together, but we worked at settling on what our values would be, faculty, staff student. So it's right there behind you, the DETAILS. So you'll see signs hanging outside that say, "Our success is in the DETAILS." Which is also an attention to being careful to ensure that you follow the steps with the course that you lay out for yourself and your plan. But it is also to ensure that we model behavior, we don't just talk about the behavior. But that we model it. And so for these youngsters who now deal with their professors and the administration. There is the same involvement in their lives and the celebration of their victories, or you know, I don't want you to think it's all, as the kids would say, it's all good because sometimes it's a rough and rocky road. My first year here the head of the student government association got kicked out because she was on social probation for having a fight over something having to do with a Greek letter or whatever. And here is the bright kid with not enough discipline, I mean I don't even understand it, you know, two women going at it. And she was tremendously embarrassed. And I said to her, you have but one thing to do here. You will be on--she was on social probation for the entire year. I said you have but one thing to do here. You need to earn a 4.0 [grade point average] each semester and get yourself to law school. And you can come to me and talk about it. And then I told her, now they all know, I said but it's not so hard to stay in the dorm all semester, I've done it. And what you have to do is understand that this passage can be ugly or you can make something out of it. And so to continue, there are great teachers who are engaged in and involved in their students, who take the time. I talked early on about going down to admission because you know the students will be there. The so-called administrators who are involved, engaged and they will come to wherever they find simpatico and interest to seek help or seek advice. Or sometimes all because they were in trouble. And that's the glory of the small liberal arts black school [HBCU]. We're not tolerate--we don't tolerate our kids. We don't tolerate each other. We talk about the Fisk family, it exists and you know, you might talk about each other on this campus, but you don't leave here not doing anything other than lifting the kids who are here. And it's a great experience. There are nine hundred and I think fifty-six students here. By the time we get to next year, I will know all of their names. I mean, I mark the class I came in with, I came in a week before the class of 2008. So I'm a sophomore, I'm a sophomore this year, I'll be a junior--no I'm a junior this year. I'll be a senior next year, that's my class.