Leasure Is New Deputy Director for Management
By Rich McManus
On the Front Page...
The two biggest jobs facing new NIH Deputy Director for Management Charles E. "Chick" Leasure Jr., who took over the post in early October from Tony Itteilag, are Restructuring, a department-wide mandate to keep all HHS operating divisions consistent with the secretary's leadership, and restructuring, which involves unpacking crates and settling into his new Bldg. 1 office after 36 years in a variety of executive positions throughout NIH.
But first a word about his nickname: "It's a southern name," he explains. "My mother was born in Arkansas and raised in Virginia. She told me, 'You were too small to be called Charles.' I used to say that I'd change my name to something more dignified when I grew up, but eventually I gave up on that."
He had eloped at 19, so he was a married college graduate in search of a career. "I started law school at night, but midway through my first year I got drafted into the Navy." After serving his hitch, he took the Civil Service exam, after which NIH contacted him about a position in September 1965.
"My first office was right below where I'm sitting now (in Bldg. 1, Rm. 102)," he said. "If I fell through the floor, I'd be in my old office." His first job was as an employee relations assistant for NIH's central personnel office. Leasure said he took the NIH job thinking it would give him time to decide on returning to law school, "but I never did."
After a year there, he became an administrative assistant in the National Cancer Institute, the precursor to an administrative officer position, to which he later rose in NCI's Division of Cancer Treatment.
In 1974, he was named executive officer at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a job he held for 10 years. In 1984, he moved his family to North Carolina when he became executive officer for the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. The Leasures lived on the leafy edges of the University of North Carolina campus in Chapel Hill. Leasure's wife and two of their sons earned degrees at UNC, and the university still holds a place in his heart. He was once, in jest, given an honorary degree in "molecular management" from the "Virtual University of North Carolina."
The Leasures remained Tar Heels until 1998, when Chick was tapped to become executive officer at the National Human Genome Research Institute, which brought him back to his old stomping grounds. He was at NHGRI for all the fireworks surrounding the monumental success of the Human Genome Project, and late this past summer was asked to move over to Bldg. 1 to become one of four NIH deputy directors.
Not only that, Leasure has, since last January, been acting executive officer for the Office of the Director, a post formerly held by Fred Walker, and which will soon be filled permanently, much to Leasure's relief.
As 2001 winds down, Leasure actually wears three hats: deputy director for management, acting OD executive officer, and NIH's chief financial officer.
Looking back on a long NIH career, he has only happy memories. "NIEHS was a great place, and a great experience for me," he says. "And it was fantastic to be part of the Human Genome Project; I was happy to be around for that. I've been very lucky [that my career] has worked out so well. NIH has been a good place for me. It's been a privilege to work with people who are not only tops in their fields scientifically, but who are also great people. I'm proud that they're leading the biomedical research effort in the United States. I have worked for a number of institute directors, and they've all been great."
Leasure is also grateful for a homecoming that returns him not only to his social roots he says he still hangs out with friends made in grade school at Blessed Sacrament parish but also to cultural ones: he is a big fan of country and bluegrass music, and attends festivals in music-rich metropolitan Washington whenever he can. "I can't play music and I can't sing though," he laments. "My wife laughs every time I try."
As NIH embarks on a major reevaluation of the way it conducts its business, Leasure says he is challenged to "take things that make sense for one part of the department and apply them to NIH" in a restructuring effort. He will be guided, he says, by principles learned from football coaches at Prep, and from the Navy: "Those were the best management experiences I ever had I learned to be dependable, and to work with other people.
"You know, I've only had three jobs in my life: parent, coach and manager. And in each role, you need to be able to tell people what to do, show them how to do it, and make them want to do it they're all variations on a theme."
Back in 1966, as a young NCI administrator, Leasure had a memorable boss who told him he was in charge of three things: money, men and material. Leasure says only the nomenclature is different today: "Now it's funds, folks and facilities."
By whatever name, no one knows those worlds at NIH better than Chick Leasure.
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