Remarks by Jason R. Baron, Chair of the 2018 Emmett Leahy Award Committee

on the occasion of presenting the 2018 Emmett Leahy Award to Dr. Trudy Huskamp Peterson

Trudy is the 49th recipient of the Emmett Leahy Award and is the 9th former staff member of the National Archives to receive this award. The other recipients are:

  • Everett Allredge 1969
  • Harold L. "Mark" Koenig 1974
  • Ben Oliver 1978
  • Artel Ricks 1987
  • Frank Evans 1995
  • Charles Dollar 2005
  • Ken Thibodeau ` 2008
  • Myself 2011

Additional remarks prior to the presentation of the award plaque:

Trudy Huskamp Peterson’s career to date and her impact on the world of records management and archives has been truly remarkable.  Trudy was named Acting Archivist of the United States on March 25, 1993, following terms as Acting Assistant Archivist (1985–1987), and Assistant Archivist for the National Archives (1987–1993). She was the first woman to hold the position of Acting Archivist of the United States. 

After receiving her B.S. from Iowa State University, and her M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Iowa, Trudy held many positions at the National Archives. She began in 1968 as a historian and archivist at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in West Branch, Iowa. She subsequently worked as an editor with the John F. Kennedy Oral History Project; a research assistant and archivist in the Office of Presidential Libraries; a member of the FBI Records Appraisal Task Force; Chief of both the Legislative and Natural Resources Branch and Machine-Readable Records Branch; and an archives specialist with the Archival Research and Evaluation Staff.

From 1990 to 1991 Peterson served as president of the Society of American Archivists, and from 1993 to 1995 as vice-president of the International Council on Archives.

During her tenure as Acting Archivist, Peterson led the agency through the completion and opening of the new National Archives at College Park, Maryland. She also helped to create and implement a new strategic plan aimed at increasing the efficiency of the agency and building stronger relationships between the agency and the public and government. She was responsible for 3,000 employees and a budget of nearly $250 million.

As Acting Archivist, she introduced the development of a nationwide computer network for the National Archives and was an advocate to improve international standards for descriptions of materials held in archives. Trudy retired from the National Archives in 1995 after accepting a position as director of the Open Society Archives at Central European University in Budapest, Hungary.

Since leaving the National Archives, she has worked as an archivist for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and founded an archival consulting company in 2002. Through her consulting activities, Trudy has worked with several other departments in the United Nations, the governments of multiple countries, and internationally known organizations in an effort to improve their archival practices. She has worked extensively in the preservation of records of human rights and truth commissions, including publishing a book on the topic entitled Final Acts: A Guide to Preserving the Records of Truth Commissions (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005).

The Emmett Leahy Committee based its decision in making this year’s award on Trudy’s sustained international leadership over the past several decades on issues involving the creation and preservation of, and access to, records worldwide.  Trudy’s outstanding advocacy on the subject of archives includes not only her work while at NARA, but also as founder of the Open Society Archives in Budapest; working for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and for the UN Department of Peacekeeping; assisting in the work of a variety of other international tribunals; acting as Chair of the Human Rights Working Group of the ICA; and working on behalf of the preservation of records and archives situated in countries around the globe, including in Guatemala and most recently the Marshall Islands.  The combined advocacy roles Trudy has performed and is continuing to undertake to this day all have had a profound impact on the records and information profession.   

It is with great pleasure that I am honored to present the 2018 Emmett Leahy Award to Trudy Huskamp Peterson.

Good afternoon.  I am Jason R. Baron, Chair of the 2018 Emmett Leahy Award Committee, and it is my pleasure to welcome you to the presentation of the Emmett J. Leahy Award to Trudy Huskamp Peterson for her Outstanding Contributions to the Records and Information Profession. 

Charles Dollar couldn’t be with us today, but when he presided as Chair of the Emmett Leahy Committee, he started off his introductory remarks by saying:  “Many of you 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?’”   What follows is an abridged recapitulation of Charles’ remarks made in 2011, which I think remain appropriate to remember and recite:

"Born on December 24, 1910 in Washington, DC, Ed Leahy grew up about 20 blocks north of where we are meeting today.  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. Among others, 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. 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 a 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.  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 ever since with only one break in continuity in the 1980s."