Former Diversity Program Manager Laster Mourned
Osler H. Laster, better known within the NIH community as “O.H.,” died Apr. 4 at Howard County General Hospital from complications of a heart condition. He was 90.
A former high school teacher and Peace Corps volunteer who served in several African nations, Laster was born in Monongah, W.Va. He came to NIH in 1972 as a training officer for the National Cancer Institute, but in more than four decades of service, he touched many facets of life at NIH.
Just as Laster will be remembered for his signature straw hat, he will also be remembered for wearing many hats throughout his NIH career.
In 1972, Laster served on the NIH child development committee that was responsible for implementing plans for the first NIH day care center. In addition to developing and recommending training programs to enhance the upward mobility of NCI employees, Laster coordinated special observances focusing on minorities, women and employees with disabilities for NIH. In the early 1990s, he became a diversity program manager in the Office of Equal Opportunity in the Office of the NIH Director, predecessor of the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. Laster was responsible for bringing such noted guest lecturers as the late Julian Bond, Martin Luther King III, several members of Congress and other notable personalities to speak on sustaining a culture that allows every NIH employee to reach his or her full potential.
“O.H. had strong skills in community advocacy and organization that facilitated his skill in creating programs to bring history alive,” recalled Vince Thomas, Small Business Innovation Research Program manager, NIMHD.
Laster was a founding member of the NIH chapter of Blacks in Government and later served a term as its president. He worked with Coretta Scott King on the committee to create the Dr. Martin Luther King Holiday. A strong proponent of cross-cultural communication, Laster made every effort to include the various races and ethnicities represented in the NIH workforce in his programs.
Although he officially retired from NIH in 2000, Laster continued to consult agency leaders on diversity and minority employment issues and on planning and development of such special emphasis programs as the King Day and African-American History Month observances, as well as Take Your Child to Work Day activities.
He received many awards and commendations over the span of his 42-year career at NIH, one of which was presented by Dr. Yvonne Maddox, former NIH acting deputy director, shortly after his retirement. In the ceremony held to present Laster with a marble plaque, Maddox observed that, “NIH owes O.H. a tremendous debt of gratitude for his many years of hard work, creativity and commitment to the advancement of equal opportunity issues.”
Upon learning of Laster’s passing, Maddox said, “O.H. Laster was a dedicated, unselfish supporter of the many NIH diversity programs. He devoted personal time on weekends and after work to do whatever the agenda required to ensure that our NIH racial/ethnic cultural events continued from year to year. O.H. was well known for this passionate devotion and highly respected for it.”
Laster was a resident of Columbia, Md., and was active in his local community. He served on the board of the Howard County Center for African-American Culture. He hosted the organization’s annual Men in the Kitchen dinner, its primary fundraiser. Laster planned an annual Juneteenth program for the county in which he dramatized the horrors of slavery with a character he created, “James Too,” an emancipated slave. An avid physical fitness advocate, Laster became a certified trainer and exercise instructor, most recently in Zumba, after retirement.
Laster’s NIH colleagues, past and present, and friends mourn his loss along with his son and daughter-in-law, Charles and Dianne Laster of Monongah, his brother Rudy Laster of Buffalo, N.Y., and many other relatives around the country.