Skip to main content
NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

Greenwald, Longtime NIH History Enthusiast, Is Mourned

Harriet Greenwald

Harriet Greenwald

“Do you need any help? I have an A.B.D. [all but dissertation] in history from Harvard and live on the NIH campus,” Harriet Greenwald asked Dr. Victoria Harden during an introductory phone call in 1986. Harden, founding director of the Office of NIH History and Stetten Museum (ONHM), remembered that with that phone call, she saw a vision of an angel descending. Greenwald’s offer led to her long and fruitful professional and personal relationship with ONHM.

Greenwald, 87, died Nov. 9 in New London, Conn., where she had relocated in 2016.

In 1986, Greenwald became lead editor of ONHM’s publication NIAID Intramural Contributions, 1887-1987. Involvement in NIH’s centennial celebration led to formation of the NIH Alumni Association (NIHAA), also in 1986, when Greenwald served as executive director and editor of the NIHAA Update newsletter. 

NIHAA provided a way for staff who had retired or left to stay in contact with each other. She led the organization until it disbanded in 2007. 

ONHM holds the NIHAA archives in its collections.

Greenwald also spearheaded a project to find and label objects and records all over the Bethesda and Hamilton, Mont., campuses that the ONHM is collecting. [If you find an instrument, picture or file with a sticker denoting the item as part of the historical survey, contact ONHM.] 

Greenwald’s last project is an ongoing effort with ONHM to document all of the residents who lived in the Public Health Service (PHS) quarters on campus since they opened in 1940. Her historical research is proving pivotal in a current joint ONHM/ORF project to specifically document the 15B quarters for historic preservation, as the building is preparing to be renovated for use by the NIH Children’s Inn. 

Born in Los Angeles to artist Cecilia Conn Reif and architect/movie set designer Elias “Harry” Reif, Greenwald graduated from UCLA. She came east to attend Harvard as a doctoral student in colonial American history. In 1967, she met Dr. Peter Greenwald; they would celebrate 54 years of marriage. 

In 1981, Peter joined NIH to establish and become director of the Division of Cancer Prevention and Control at the National Cancer Institute. He and Harriet lived on the Bethesda campus in PHS quarters until his retirement in 2016.

“Harriet gave selflessly of her time and expertise to so many people on campus,” concluded one of several NIH’ers who worked closely with Greenwald. “She used her power for good, whether providing research and program assistance to ONHM, encouraging and introducing newcomers to NIH, or loaning out her on-campus parking spot to a pregnant colleague. She took a robust interest in politics, an even more keen interest in her children and grandchildren, and was a person who managed to keep in contact with so many people without forgetting names that it was awe-inspiring. She also leaves a hole in ONHM that will never be filled.” 

Greenwald’s survivors include husband Peter, children Rebecca, Laura and Daniel, and 10 grandchildren.

Back to Top