Longtime NIMH Colleague Hazel Rea Dies at 91
Hazel Rea, who joined the fledgling NIMH Intramural Research Program (IRP) in 1949 as a secretary and rose through the ranks to become its deputy director, died in her home on May 18, 2002, three months after her 91st birthday.
"She was the one who really ran the administration," said Julius Axelrod, Ph.D., NIH Scientist Emeritus and Nobel Prize Laureate, who also recently turned 91. "She made important decisions."
Born the second youngest of nine children, Rea left her home state of Arkansas in search of adventure and a job in the Nation's Capital. At the age of 24, in 1935, she began her Federal career at the Treasury Department. Fourteen years and several agencies later, she took a stenographer position at NIMH, when the Institute's staff totaled 60 employees, in a 2-story building where, reportedly, only the primates had the benefit of air conditioning.
Rea made up what she lacked in formal education with hard work, native intelligence, perseverance, and long hours. Over the years, Rea's administrative and analytical abilities earned her increasing levels of responsibility, culminating in her appointment as Deputy Director. At age 80, she started working part-time, and retired four years later, in 1995.
"She was for many years the heart, soul and spirit of the NIMH IRP, and perhaps the best 'administrator' I have known in either the public or private sectors," said former NIMH Scientific Director Steven M. Paul, M.D., now a group vice president at Eli Lilly and Co. "Without her, I and my predecessors would have been far less effective in managing such a complex and, at times, challenging organization."
Rea developed procedures for attracting and recruiting women to NIMH that predated the equal employment opportunity program, according to Pat Middleton, Chief of the IRP Personnel Management Branch, who interviewed her in 1994 for an article.She said Rea treated people with respect and knew how to appeal to their good side. "Hazel's direct advice to employees," Middleton said, "was that they 'should take their work seriously and believe in what they are doing,' and that managers should 'deal honestly' with their staff. 'Always level with employees,' Hazel had said, 'and let them know when they are doing well or when they are not performing.'"
Robert Desimone, Ph.D., IRP Scientific Director, who had worked with her for many years, told staff in an email informing them about her death that "no one was more devoted to NIMH" than Hazel Rea.
Adding to her assets was also a keen working knowledge of the science, said NIMH science writer Jules Asher, who worked in the IRP during the 1980s. "Hazel was undaunted by her lack of formal coursework," Asher said. "She attended all the scientific reviews and got into the nitty gritty of the research."
Rea is also credited with founding the NIH Recreation & Welfare Association (R&W). Randy Schools, President and Chief Executive Officer of the NIH R&W said Rea "took the concept and brought it to the NIH community. She helped plant the seed for all the programming that's now here."
The mission of the NIMH is to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery and cure. For more information, visit the NIMH website.
About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit the NIH website.