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NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

Exec Sec’s Brewer Retires

Woman at piano smiles, turned toward camera.

Once-a-month gig. In one of her final performances as an NIH’er, newly retired Ann Brewer forfeits her lunch break to play traditional pop music and classical music on the Clinical Research Center’s Steinway grand piano in the north atrium.

Photo: Bill Branson

Last January, Ann Brewer put a deck of playing cards on a table in her office to count down the weeks to her retirement. Each week she took one card from the deck. 

“There are 52 cards in a deck and 52 weeks in a year, so I thought the cards would be a fun way to count down,” she said.   

On Dec. 31, Brewer retired as director of the Executive Secretariat (Exec Sec) in the Office of the Director.

Her office manages all written correspondence coming to and from the NIH director and principal deputy director. In 2014, she estimates her office handled 8,000 pieces of correspondence. Exec Sec also manages the official federal record of all documents signed by the director or deputy and other important documents related to NIH’s mission.  

Trained as a nurse, Brewer came to NIH in 2002. During her tenure, she has worked with four directors—two acting and two permanent. Before coming to NIH, she was the coordinator of female health at the Wisconsin department of corrections.

Brewer also plays the piano. In 1990, she began playing at the Wisconsin governor’s mansion for special events. There, she met then-governor Tommy Thompson. After she performed, they would talk. 

“I’d bend his ear, talking about health care issues that were important to me,” Brewer said.

When Thompson became HHS secretary, he told her about an open position at NIH. She applied and got the job. At first, Brewer thought she would stay only for a few years and move back to Wisconsin. Like so many NIH’ers, she stayed longer than planned. 

“Working at NIH wasn’t my first choice, but in hindsight it should’ve been,” she said. “It is an incredible place.”  

She credits many of her colleagues with providing support and giving advice during different family members’ illnesses. NIH is “an amazing place where everybody is willing to help out,” she said.

Once a month, Brewer gave up her lunch break to play traditional pop music and classical music on the Clinical Research Center’s Steinway grand piano in the north atrium for patients, staff and visitors. She’s also proud to have sat on the board of directors of the Friends of Patients at the NIH. 

She championed efforts to reduce Exec Sec’s greenhouse gas emissions, energy and water consumption and pollution. In one year, she estimates that her staff has driven 100,000 fewer miles than they would have because of telework policies and flexible workplace agreements. Her efforts have also saved 200,000 pieces of paper.  

After she sells her house on Capitol Hill, she’ll return to Wisconsin to be closer to her 3 children and 4 grandchildren. Once there, she plans to volunteer for advocacy work on behalf of families dealing with alcoholism and cheer for her two favorite football teams, the Green Bay Packers and the Wisconsin Badgers. 

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