Recognizing Excellence in Records & Information Management
Good morning. I am Charles Dollar, Chair of the Emmett Leahy Award Committee, and it is my pleasure to welcome you to the presentation of the Emmett J. Leahy Award to Jason R. Baron of the National Archives and Records Administration for Outstanding Contributions to the Records and Information Profession. For those of you who may not recognize the name Emmett "Ed" Leahy and may be wondering, "Who is this guy and why is there an award bearing his name?" I want to take a few minutes to share with you a brief biographical sketch of Ed Leahy and a history of the Emmett J. Leahy Award.
Born on December 24, 1910 in Washington, DC, Ed Leahy grew up about 20 blocks north of where we are meeting today. In his third year in high school he was admitted to the Brothers of the Christian Schools on a probationary basis. Under the auspices of the Order he attended Catholic University for two years and then transferred to La Salle University in Philadelphia where he graduated in 1933. He moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where he taught history at Boy's Central High School and also enrolled in the graduate history program of the University of Pittsburgh. He was on track to join the Brothers of the Christian Schools when he met Betty McGinnis in 1933 and they began dating. In August 1934 Leahy decided to return to Washington and seek a position in the Federal Government so he and Betty could marry. His first position was as a temporary clerk examiner at the Federal Trade Commission. Each day he could see the new National Archives Building under construction and decided to apply for a job. He was interviewed by Dorsey Hyde, Director of Archival Services, at the Department of Justice Building next door and must have made a very favorable impression because he was the only individual in the first round of staff recruitment of archivists who did not have some experience in archives, a Ph.D. in history or was not completing a Ph.D. program. In fact, Ed Leahy had not completed the M.A. degree in history at the University of Pittsburgh.
Ed Leahy's first day on the job was July 22, 1935 and he was assigned to work as a "Special Examiner" of records of the Treasury Department. Under the National Archives Act of 1934 the Archivist of the United States was authorized to deputize examiners to examine records in federal agencies. One group of examiners, called Deputy Examiners, was charged with identifying records of permanent value. The task of Special Examiners was to identify records of useless value that the Archivist of the United States would submit to Congress for approval of destruction. Very soon both the Deputy Examiners and Special Examiners recognized that the disorganized state of records in federal agencies made it very difficult and time consuming to identify permanent and useless records. Two Special Examiners, Phil Brooks and Emmett Leahy, began calling for the engagement of archivists to promote good records administration early in the life history of records, long before records would be eligible for disposal or transfer to National Archives. With the strong support of Solon J. Buck, who became the second Archivist of the United States in September 1941, both Brooks and Leahy initiated activities called records administration that eventually became records management.
In September 1941 Ed Leahy transferred to the Department of Navy where he became the Director of Records Administration. A year later when Leahy was being considered to become a commissioned officer, Archivist of the United States Solon J. Buck wrote a reference letter in Leahy's behalf: ”I have known Mr. Leahy intimately since 1935.... He is highly endowed with intelligence, initiative, and energy, and he has a very fine personality. I am sure that he would make an excellent Naval officer, and I take pleasure in recommending him for a commission." (Buck to director of the Naval Office of Procurement, October 1, 1942, Emmett J. Leahy Official Personal File Folder, in possession of the author.)
At the Navy Department Leahy began implementation of a records administration program that included elimination of huge accumulations of duplicated or useless records held by components of the Department of Navy and simplification of forms that collected redundant information. Under his leadership, the Navy created numerous records disposition schedules and established a Navy Records Management Center in a garage in Alexandria, Virginia that had gone out of business. This was the first records management center in North America. By the end of the war he had established eight more Navy Records Management Centers. Leahy also was an "evangelist" for the use of microfilm to reduce the volume of paper records, such as engineering drawings required for repair work on navy vessels.
Late in 1945 Leahy left the Navy Department to join Remington Rand as National Sales Manager for Microfilm and records management consultant. After two years Leahy left Remington Rand to establish the National Records Management Council to promote records management. In 1948 his national visibility as a records management expert resulted in being invited to join the Hoover Commission on the Reorganization of the Executive Branch of Government and to head a task force on the reduction of records. One outcome of the task force that Leahy chaired was a movement to incorporate the National Archives into a new government organization, the General Services Administration. Of greater importance was the Federal Records Act of 1950, which for the first time established a comprehensive records management program for the federal government. What is frequently overlooked is that many key provisions in the Federal Records Act of 1950 were included in a proposal he submitted to the Budget Bureau in 1942.
Leahy's work on the Hoover Commission gave him and his company, Leahy and Associates and Leahy Business Archives, increasing visibility as records management consultants and this eventually led to the creation of records centers for the storage of business records. By the late 1950s Leahy Business Archives and Business Records Centers in major U.S. cities were in effect an Iron Mountain enterprise storage facility.
In September 1963 at the age of 52 Leahy suffered a stroke and died. A close associate at Leahy Business Archives, Chris Cameron, and his widow ran the company until it was sold to a British Company in the late 1980s. Three years after Leahy's death, Rod Exelbert, editor of a newly formed magazine, Information Management Magazine, decided that he would use the magazine as a venue for the creation of the Emmett Leahy Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Records and Information Management Profession. The first Emmett Leahy Award was presented in 1967 to Edward Rosse of the Social Security Administration. The award has been presented annually except for the years 1981 to 1983 when the Emmett Leahy Award had no sponsor. Over the years the Emmett Leahy Award has been sponsored by the Information Management Magazine, the Institute for Certified Records Managers, Pierce Leahy Business Archives, Iron Mountain, and more recently Huron Legal.
Presentation of the Emmett Leahy Award at the National Archives Building is an historic occasion. As the representative of the Secretary of Navy on the National Archives Advisory Council, Ed Leahy participated in numerous meetings in this very room that recommended new records administration initiatives to the Budget Bureau, including the Records Disposal Act of 1943 and the draft Public Records Act of 1944. It is fitting that presentation of the 2011 Emmett Leahy Award to Jason R. Baron of the National Archives and Records Administration occurs in this same room. Jason is the 42nd recipient of the Emmett Leahy Award and is the 8th staff member of the National Archives to receive this award. The other seven recipients are:
Aside from their specific contributions to the records and information profession, these eight recipients of the Emmett Leahy Award spent their professional careers at the National Archives. No other organization in the world can match this remarkable record of individual accomplishment. This is a powerful testament to the mission of the National Archives of the United States to promote excellence in records management.
The Emmett Leahy Award Committee, which is an independent body that selects the recipient of the Emmett Leahy Award, is composed of the ten most previous recipients. We have two former members of the Emmett Leahy Award Committee. Fred Diers and Jim Coulson, with us today. We also have three other recipients of the Emmett Leahy Award here to represent the Committee. They include John Phillips, Ken Thibodeau, and me. John Phillips is rotating off the Committee after ten years of service and will be replaced by Jason Baron.
It is now my pleasure to invite the 10th Archivist of the United States, the Honorable David S. Ferriero, to share his thoughts on this occasion.