Hazel Reid O’Leary was the seventh United States secretary of energy, from 1993 to 1997, and is the first and only woman, and first and only African-American, to hold the position.
Born on May 17, 1937, in Newport News, Va., O’Leary graduated with honors from Fisk University in Nashville, and received her law degree from Rutgers University Law School in 1966.
From 1967 to 1969, O’Leary handled organized crime cases as an assistant prosecutor and assistant attorney general in New Jersey before moving to Washington, D.C., where she was a partner at Coopers & Lybrand consulting and accounting firm.
In 1981, O’Leary and her husband, John, established O’Leary & Associates, an international energy-consulting firm focusing on issues of corporate change, leadership and arms control, where she served as vice president and general counsel.
From 1989 to 1993, she worked as an executive vice president of the Northern States Power Company.
In 1993, President Bill Clinton nominated O’Leary as secretary of energy, leading the cabinet-level Department of Energy’s 120,000 federal and contract employees in the pursuit of practical solutions in national security, science and technology, energy policy, sustainable development, and economic productivity.
While in this position, O’Leary was recognized for declassifying Cold War-era records, which showed the U.S. government had used American citizens during radiation experiments. Her work led to Clinton’s issuing an executive order creating the Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments to prevent such abuses of power from recurring.
In 2001 and 2002, she served as president and chief operating officer at Blaylock & Partners, L.P., a top-ranked African-American investment banking firm in New York.
In 2004, O’Leary became the 14th president of her undergraduate alma mater, Fisk University. As president, O’Leary has played an integral role in helping the university recruit top students and outstanding faculty, and in major fundraising initiatives.
In 2012, Forbes’ Top Colleges List ranked Fisk in the top 20 percent of 650 higher-education institutions, making it the highest-ranked historically black college or university.