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Interview of Alice Suter by Richard Peppin on 2007 August 28, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/31670
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Discussion includes her current work; her membership in the Acoustical Society of America, American Speech and Hearing Assn; her work at the EPA on noise abatement; her education and decision to become an audiologist; her work with the National Assn. of Hearing and Speech Agencies; getting her Ph.D. at the University of Maryland; her work at OSHA; her work on the Hearing Conservation Amendment; her work as a consultant.
I’m Rich Peppin and we’re going to have an interview now. The time is 8:10 in the evening on the 28th of August. I’m talking with Alice Suter. Tell me your present address.
575 Dogwood Way, Ashland, Oregon, 97520.
What’s your present telephone number?
Are you self-employed? Would you call yourself self-employed, your present employer?
And what’s your job title now?
Okay. How long have you been a consultant?
Well, off and on since I left OSHA, which was 1982.
It’s hard to believe, isn’t it?
Right. Then I went to work for NIOSH for a while, and then ever since I was in NIOSH I’ve been consulting on my own. And the company is Alice Suter and Associates.
When you were at NIOSH, were you a consultant or were you on the payroll?
No, I was a regular employee. Research…let’s see, what did they call me? Visiting Scientist and then Research Audiologist.
Oh good. Did you have to move?
Yes, we moved from the Washington area to Cincinnati.
So as a consultant, I guess you have a lot of different kinds of jobs. You get hired by private sector and the government.
Yes. A lot of it is government, but I work for private organizations and private companies sometimes.
What sort of percentage of time do you work?
Good question. Sometimes zero percent and other times more than half time. It probably averages out to about a quarter time.
Good, good. So that’s the present part. Now for the Acoustical Society. Do you remember when you joined ASA, the year?
I think it was 1977, because that’s the year that I passed my oral exams and I got my PhD. I remember Hayes Newby, who was my advisor, said, “You’d better buy a new bookshelf.”
(Aside) Did you know that Henning von Gierke died?
I couldn’t believe it when I heard it recently.
Yes, he was pretty sick.
Really? I didn’t know. It seemed like I saw him a year ago, but it might have been a long time ago. What was your age and profession at the time when you first joined ASA?
Let’s see. I think I was 40. Could that be?
Yes, that’s about reasonable.
Yes, seems old. I was 40. I was working for EPA and I had just finished my dissertation and my oral exams.
Okay, I’ll get to the EPA in a second. Were you interested in audiology at the time you joined ASA? Was that what drove you to ASA?
No, I had been an audiologist for years.
Okay, and so what about the American Speech and Hearing Association, would you have joined that, or did you?
I was already a member of the American Speech and Hearing Association. Basically the reason why I joined ASA was because I was so interested in noise.
And EPA was — you were doing noise work?
I was working for the Office of Noise Abatement at EPA. Maybe I joined earlier than that. ’77, I must have already been a member. I bet I joined earlier than that. I bet I joined after I finished my coursework and I did my comprehensive exams. I’d have to look it up, frankly, but if I joined earlier it would have been 1970.
Well, let’s see. When did the Noise Control Act come out?
‘72. So EPA wasn’t around until ‘72. You think it was before?
I think I joined before ‘72.
Well, ASA could figure that out.
Yes, I mean I have that back in my files. I joined the EPA’s Office of Noise Abatement in ‘73.
Right, soon after they formed.
So, you joined because it was noise abatement, a way?
I was really interested in noise, and I had actually — I was working for the National Association of Hearing and Speech Agencies from ‘69 to ’73, and I was already interested in noise because I had been working at the Veteran’s Administration and I was interested, as an audiologist, testing these veterans, Vietnam veterans, who all had high frequency hearing losses. I was interested in what had happened to them and then the whole idea of noise abatement became more interesting.
Were you an employee of the Veteran’s Administration then?
I was on a traineeship there while I was working on my coursework for my PhD.
Coursework, okay, I guess we’ll get to that. Did anyone encourage you to join ASA, or you just knew about it?
I don’t think anyone did. I just knew about it and wanted to join.
Did you belong to any committees when you started?
No, not right away. There was a meeting in Washington; it was the first meeting called “Noise As a Public Health Hazard”, jointly sponsored by the American Speech and Hearing Association and, I guess not the ASA, I guess it was sponsored by ASHA. I thought there was another organization. But anyway, I wasn’t invited to the meeting, but I crashed it. And I was fascinated. That was in ‘68.
That was in the D.C. area?
In D.C. That was the first of many meetings.
That was not an ASA meeting. Do you remember where your first ASA was? Did you just go or did you give a paper?
I probably didn’t give a paper right away.
Eventually you joined some committees. You were on Noise.
Yes, I think the Noise Committee was the first one I joined, and then I joined P&P after a while. Oh, right — I know I had joined before ‘77 because I moved out to Ohio to work at Wright Patterson Air Force Base under Henning in ’74, and I was already an ASA member then.
That means EPA was after ’74; like ‘78 is what you’re saying.
No, EPA — Actually this is while I was working at EPA. I was detailed. Henning actually arraigned for me to be detailed from Washington D.C. to Wright Patterson so I could work at his lab, and I did my dissertation at his lab.
Oh, great. Do you hold any positions, or did you in ASA, any officer or executive council, anything like that?
Yes, I did. Let’s see. Oh, I was also going to tell you that I was also on the Committee — there was a Women’s Committee, I think, for a while.
Yes, still is.
Right. Okay and I was on that for a while. Then I was elected to the Council.
I remember seeing it in the paper, I mean in the paper version of the journal.
Right, what did they call it, the Legislative Council?
Technical. There is a Technical and…
Well, there is a council that runs the organization, isn’t it?
Yes, Executive Council.
Executive Council, thanks. So I was elected to that, and I was on that for a term, three years, something like that.
I think so. Did you become a Fellow?
Yes, I think I became a Fellow in ‘78, ‘79, ‘80, something like that.
I guess Henning was a very important influence on you.
Yes, he was.
Were there other ASA members that were noteworthy in your career?
Oh, probably several, but Henning definitely the most. Dan Johnson, he, and I worked together some. Charles Nixon was very supportive and he was very helpful to me as I was doing my dissertation out of Wright Patterson. Karl Pearsons, while I was working at EPA, was very helpful.
When I was involved with EPA at the Noise Office, Noise Abatement, they had a lot of contractors and stuff, so they managed Science Applications Inc. and Booz Allen and stuff. Did you do that kind of work too, managing projects?
Some, yes. Usually the projects that I was involved in had to do with the effects of noise, and the effects of noise on hearing and on speech.
EPA at that time had the Levels Document?
Well, I worked on the Levels Document and the Criteria Document, both of them. That was part of my…
That was sort of groundbreaking.
Yes, I think that was probably my most important job at EPA was to work on the Criteria Document, particularly on the Levels Document. Raelyn Janssen, I worked with her.
She was down south, right?
She was in D.C. She worked for EPA for several years, but even before she was at EPA, she was working for the Environmental Defense Fund, and she was very helpful to those of us who were working on noise effects and criteria development.
Do you have any other comments about ASA as far as being good or not going that often anymore? Is there anything special about ASA?
ASA, well, I enjoyed my relationship with ASA greatly. I learned a lot, not only from the meetings but a lot from the people that I met there. I would say it would take me a long time to list all of the people, the ASA members that were influential in my development. The meetings were always interesting and fun.
And well organized.
Very well organized. And I liked the fact that we met twice a year, and I usually managed to get my boss to let me go to both meetings a year.
Have you gone to any of the foreign meetings in Paris?
Oh sure. The most recent one that I went to was in Berlin.
Oh, the Berlin meeting, that’s right. The next one is in Paris.
Yes, I plan to go to that one too. There is a session being organized, by Paul Schomer, to honor Henning, so I would give a paper there.
Great. What other professional organizations do you, or did you, belong to?
I belonged to the American Speech and Hearing Association for a long time. Even before I joined the ASA I was a member of ASHA.
I guess you heard they’re moving?
No, I didn’t know.
From Rockville, that nice building.
Yes, if they haven’t moved, they’re moving to Fredrick.
To Fredrick? Wow.
Or maybe North [???], far away.
Maybe Gaithersburg. And that area that they had they sold for Centex Homes for a lot of money.
Huge, I’m sure it’s huge. No wonder they didn’t raise the dues this year.
That’s right. So, ASHA.
And the National Hearing Conservation Association. And then others, I was a member of CHABA (Committee on Hearing and Bioacoustics), and I was an advisor to CHABA for several years. What else?
That’s good. Now we go to the early times. When and where were you born?
Evanston, Illinois. You want to know when?
I asked, but you don’t have to.
That’s okay. 1937, so that tells you how old I am now. I just had my 70th birthday.
You look great.
Did you move from Evanston, right, near Chicago?
I lived in Winnetka, which is a suburb of Chicago.
Did you live there most of your young life?
Yes, until I went to college.
Until college. Did you go to public schools?
Well, I did for the first six years, and then for a number of sort of strange reasons I went to North Shore Country Day School because that’s where my brother had gone, so they wanted me to go there, too. I loved it.
You have a brother?
Yes, he’s older. He’s four years older than me.
Your high school and grammar school years you were in the Evanston area, and then how did you decide what college to go to?
In those days you go to an Eastern Ivy League school, if you get in that’s where you go. I applied to three and I got into two, so I went to Mt. Holyoke, which is in Massachusetts.
What did your parents do?
My father was an architect; my mother was a stay-at-home housewife.
Did you do things as a kid? Did you have hobbies, special interests, musical instruments?
I always loved music, so I played the piano and I played the recorder.
This is a crazy question: how would you describe yourself during those early years? Was it a good time for you?
Did you know what you wanted to be when you grew up?
I hadn’t the faintest notion, even in college. I took a vocational test in college, and they came out saying that I really didn’t want to do anything. If I wanted to do anything it would be either as a musician or a social worker, but mostly I didn’t want to do anything.
Also, going to college, for a woman, was unusual at that time.
Oh, Mt. Holyoke was a women’s school.
A women’s college, but in my high school class everybody went to college, boys and girls both.
Did you major in anything?
Really? Like an ecumenical…?
Yes, history and philosophy, really.
History of religion. You said in high school enjoyable things were music. Were you athletic?
Yes. I was captain of the girls’ hockey team. I played basketball. Aren’t you going to ask me how I got interested in sound and hearing?
Not yet. We haven’t gotten through college yet.
Are you going to ask me later? Oh, okay.
I hope it comes in at high school now. Was it in high school?
During high school is when I got interested.
Oh, go ahead.
I had a boyfriend in high school who was deaf, and he was amazing. He could lip read beautifully. He was very smart. He played football. He was just great, and I just admired him so much. When it came time for me to figure out what I wanted to do, and this happened during college, I thought I might go into deaf education, so I did actually.
After I graduated from college I went into deaf education.
Did you have to take more courses to get that?
Yes, I went to Gallaudet College and I got a master’s degree in deaf education.
That was a full-time graduate school?
Yes, for a year.
Okay, I’ll get to that after graduate. That’s interesting how it followed you until you got out of college to decide what to do.
Yes, I think in those days girls really didn’t have careers very much. The plan for me was that I was going to go to a good women’s college and I was going to date boys from Yale and Princeton, and then I was going to get engaged my junior year and get married after my senior year. Well, it didn’t happen, not at all.
Those things don’t always happen.
So, you went to Mt. Holyoke, and that was right after high school, like after the summer you started?
Yes, started right away. Actually, I didn’t graduate from there because I never really liked it very much. Between my junior and senior year I went to Mexico with some friends and we spent the summer in Mexico City.
Everybody wanted to do that.
I did. I went to the University of Mexico, and after a while I stopped going to classes and just went shopping and went swimming, and went to Acapulco. Then I called my parents and said, “I don’t want to go back to Mt. Holyoke.” They said that was okay.
So, how did you finish college?
Well, I called up my brother who was working Washington D.C. and I said, “Maybe you could find me a college.” He said, “Okay.” So he said I should go to American University. I packed up all my stuff and came here and applied, and they took me.
When you were in Mexico did you actually sort of move there or you had all of your stuff still at Mt. Holyoke?
Still at Mt. Holyoke.
Yes, so this was a big vacation to Mexico?
That’s pretty exciting. You’ve done a lot of traveling.
And you did a lot of moving around.
Well, it says that you changed colleges, yes okay. As an undergraduate were you involved at all in any school activities? What was that, it was a Catholic club?
I forget the name. I never went in there. In all schools they had the name, like the Jewish club is the Hillel Society, and there was some Catholic one. I forget the name of it. (Newman Club)
No, actually the only thing that I did in college that I really enjoyed was I sang with the Mt. Holyoke Glee Club.
Really? Nice. Were there people in Mt. Holyoke that influenced you?
No. Well, actually there was one, I suppose you could say, and that was my music professor. He was a very good music teacher.
Just general music as opposed to piano?
Just general music. I had stopped piano by that time.
Were you interested as a young woman in movies and movie stars and anything like that?
Nothing unusual. Just like Black Beauty and all that kind of stuff. Nothing at all unusual.
Were you involved politically?
No, I was apolitical then.
Would you repeat any of that stuff again? Would you go to Mt. Holyoke again?
Yes, certainly. I like Mexico.
And American, was that good, American University?
It was okay; it wasn’t great. If I did it differently I would go probably to a smaller, Midwestern, co-ed college, like Oberlin or someplace like that.
Oberlin, I wanted to go there and couldn’t get in.
Yes, I like that. I guess when you came to American University that was really your first taste of D.C. living?
City life. Yes.
City life, too.
Yes, I lived at the International Student House that year. That was the best part.
So, you finished American and then you went right away to Gallaudet?
Were you supported there? Did you get money from some place?
I got a full stipend from Gallaudet.
Does that mean like a scholarship or a Fellowship kind of thing, or assistantship?
Yes, it wasn’t an assistantship; it was like a scholarship. Actually, everybody in my class had that. So tuition, room and board, the whole thing.
Did you have special projects, any kind of projects?
Just the class work, all different courses.
And practice teaching.
Practice teaching. Did you have a thesis?
Oh, no thesis. Any influential person at Gallaudet?
Probably Bob Frisina, definitely. Bob Frisina was the person that influenced me most there. I took audiology from him, and that’s when I knew that I really liked audiology.
Okay, graduated Gallaudet and what happened then?
I went to work as a teacher at the Maryland School for the Deaf in Frederick.
Did you move up there?
No, I lived in Chevy Chase and commuted up there.
Wow. How long was that for?
I decided that I was not born to be a teacher. I had first-year deaf students, and very little direction, and very little support. It was tough. By the end of the year I felt like I had taught them something and I had learned something and I grew fond of the kids, but I knew that was not how I wanted to spend my career.
How did you make that…?
So, I applied for a job in the D.C. Health Department, and I think I got a recommendation from Bob Frisina, and I started working for the Bureau of Maternal and Child Health doing speech and hearing therapy. And then I kind of gravitated into audiology.
At the D.C. Health Department?
D.C. Health Department testing hearing in the schools and then in their clinic.
How long was that for?
I think about seven or eight years.
Seven years, let’s see, I started in 1961 and I left in 1968.
I guess when you were at Maryland School for the Deaf, like after a while you got there and you start looking for a job, is that the same thing when you got the D.C. Health after seven years or so you said, “Time to move”?
Well, not exactly, but at the end — During the time I was working for the D.C. Health Department I became Supervisor of Audiology and I started to feel like I really didn’t have enough course work in audiology, so I started taking courses at the University of Maryland. After a while I built up several courses and I thought, “You know, I think I should just get a PhD.” So, I quit my job in the D.C. Health Department, and I was sorry in a sense because a new boss had come on who was just wonderful.
What was the…?
Ray Bernero was his name. An audiologist I’m pretty sure. So I started going full time to the University of Maryland and I got a traineeship at the Veteran’s Administration.
And that traineeship helped…
Pay for my living and my tuition.
Right. How long did you go to Maryland?
Well, two years full-time, plus the course work that I’d had before, and then I kind of ran out of money, so I had to go to — Oh, then I took my comprehensive exams.
This is still at the VA?
Actually I quit the VA so that I could study full-time for several months, maybe like six months. Then I took my exams and passed them, and then I decided I needed to work.
So the exams were finished and all you had to do was your thesis?
Yes. And I think it was 1970 that I took my exams and passed them, and then I started working for the National Association of Hearing and Speech Agencies.
How did you get that job?
Oh, through the grapevine.
All right, we might as well continue on this track, you were at the National Association of Hearing and Speech Agencies, NAHSA. And then somehow you got hooked up with the EPA at that time?
Yes, what happened is that I came to NAHSA to direct an Audiometric Assistant program, like trainees in audiology that would be like technicians, training technicians. It was a national program with pilot projects all around the country, so I flew around to several of them. My boss was interested in having NAHSA do more in hearing conservation, so I put together some workshops in industrial hearing conservation, and that was fun. I loved that job; that was really fun. But then in 1972, a friend of mine, who actually lived across the hall from me in my apartment building, had a friend who was Legislative Assistant to John Tunney who was a senator from California, and he was a co-sponsor of the Noise Control Act. And evidently nothing much was happening and they were afraid that it was just going to die for lack of interest. So a bunch of us got together, including somebody from ASHA; and Lloyd Hinton, who was a specialist in aircraft…I’m not sure, so much aircraft noise as just aircraft flight procedures; and a bunch of others. And we lobbied. We went around to all of the offices in the Senate and talked to the legislative assistants or the administrative assistants, and told them that we really favored this Noise Control Act. When it came out for a vote it passed by a huge margin.
Were there a lot of lobbyists do you think? I don’t remember, maybe some unions?
There might have been somebody from the AFL-CIO, there might have been.
But not many.
Not many. There was just a handful of us, like six or seven of us. And it was just kind of a lark, you know? I took time off from work to do it. Then when the Noise Control Act passed I thought, “Well, that’s going to be fun to work there,” so I applied for a job there.
At EPA. When was OSHA created, roughly then too?
Yes, 1970, and the Noise Control Act was 1972.
Yes, okay. ONAC, the Office of Noise Abatement Control, was a pretty popular and in-front organization because of all of the proposed regulations coming out, things like that, right? So, it was a good time to work? I mean, did you like it?
It was pretty crazy. I guess this is typical of start-up agencies. I think that sometimes they don’t know exactly what they’re supposed to do, and they have to flounder for a while. Al Meyer was the director. Fortunately he had very good relationships with Henning and Dan Johnson, so he called them in to do a lot of the work. They established the regulatory part. And then at first I floated. One of the first things I did was I was sent out to Wisconsin to give a speech that Al Meyer was supposed to give but he didn’t want to go, or he couldn’t go, so they sent me instead. Everybody was furious at me because I wasn’t Al Meyer and I couldn’t really answer their policy questions. It was a baptism by fire. In fact, I met Jack Hardesty. Jack was coordinating the hearings, the series of public hearings that they had to collect information to put into the…
He was at EPA?
He was on detail, yes, from the Office of Public Affairs to the Noise Control Office to help Al Meyer carry off these hearings that took place all around the country. That’s how I met him, because he was coordinating the hearing in Atlanta and as a member of the National Hearing Conservation Association I gave testimony in Atlanta. So, Jack helped me with the details and everything. That’s when I first met him. Basically, it was a bit chaotic there for several years. In fact, during most of its time it was very lively, there was a lot of change of direction.
It was very political, yes.
I guess there were very few people supporting the agency compared to the amount of people against it as far as industries.
Yes, that’s probably to be expected, because the industries didn’t want to be regulated and no industry usually ever does.
Do you remember any co-workers? Some of them that were…?
Yes. When I first started working there, I think the most important part of my job was to work on the Criteria and the Levels Document. I worked with Henning, and Dan Johnson, and Raelyn. And then I went off to Ohio. I was really ready to leave ONAC at that time because it was just very stressful because we never really knew what was going to happen next, and the orders were always changing.
Did you know of Simone Yaniv?
Yes, I knew Simone, and we worked together some. And Liz Cuadra was there.
Cuadra, right, she went to Alaska I guess.
Simone, last she was at NIST, but I don’t know what happened. I haven’t heard from her in years.
I haven’t either, for a long time. But really, one of the best things that happened — Two really marvelous opportunities that I had during my first year at EPA were, one, to go this international conference in Dubrovnik, which I told you about the first conference in 1968 where I had kind of crashed the gates and attended and was so interested. The second one then was sponsored by EPA, co-sponsored by EPA’s ONAC and ASHA. That took place in Dubrovnik, of all places, which was so exotic.
Had you traveled overseas at that point?
Well, I had. I had been to Europe a couple of times. Never to a place like Dubrovnik! All of these international scientists and all, it was fascinating. It was just great. And then as soon as I got back from that and somebody worked on the proceedings because there are these huge proceedings that came out of that, EPA documents like three inches thick. My boss, Joe Flannigan at that time, said to me, “Well, Al Meyer has been invited to go on delegation to Russia and he doesn’t want to go. He said, ‘Joe, you go.’” Joe didn’t want to go. “So, send Alice.” “Okay.” So I went on this delegation to the Soviet Union, and that was in December of 1973. I represented Noise.
Pretty early in your EPA career.
Yes. Well, I was the only one from EPA. I think the rest were from HUD and…
Winzer probably, George Winzer — do you remember him from HUD?
He was a nice guy.
No, because they only wanted one person on Noise, and so I was it. Most of them were interested in historic preservation, so I don’t know what department that would have been. Probably HUD. The leader of the delegation was the Secretary of HUD. Mike Moscow was his name.
Interesting. But it’s early in your EPA career because you had joined months earlier.
Yes, right. Well, that’s what that time was like. There was so much going on and everything was happening so fast that there were all of these opportunities. Okay you don’t want to go? I’ll go. Sure.
Okay, so you’re at EPA, and then what? You stay for how long?
Well, I was there for, I think, a little more than a year and I decided — It’s interesting, because I carried my resignation in my purse for a whole year because it was a very crazy place. It was. So finally I decided, “You know I really ought to get at this dissertation if I ever want to do it.” And being an ABD wasn’t getting me very far, and everybody was looking to Simone Yaniv because she was the one who had the doctorate and everything. I called up Henning and said I wanted to come out and visit him, and I did. He had just had back surgery, so he was lying on the couch. And I said I’d really like to come and work in his lab and do my dissertation there. He thought, you know how Henning is, was, he thought for a while and he said, “Well Alice, we will get you detailed here.”
He was very influential.
Whew, he was. I never expected that, because I was going to do it. I don’t know how I was going to pay for it, but I was going to do it free. Now here he called up Al Meyer and said, “Send her.” So they moved me in a moving truck and the whole bit and I spent two years in Dayton.
Wow. So you finished Dayton, you finished your degree.
Well, I finished the research. But then Al Meyer left EPA. No, I guess he was still there. Then I had started to work for Rudy Marazzo before I left, and Rudy didn’t like the idea of my going away on sabbatical for two years and I’d only worked there less than a year or so, so finally Rudy called me back. I had finished the data collection but I hadn’t analyzed it or written it up. So I went back to EPA and went right to work, doing stuff, managing contracts for things that had to do with health effects of noise or any effects.
When did these Levels Documents and things like that come about?
They had already come out: 1973 was the Criteria Document and 1974 was the Levels Document. By this time it’s 1976, and I did a lot of work on EPA’s response to OSHA’s proposal. And then I was trying to work on my dissertation at night and on weekends and everything, and not getting very far. Finally Henning was visiting, and every time he’d visit, or every time I’d talk to him on the phone, he’d say, “Well, how is the thesis?” And I’d be embarrassed, but I’d have to say, “I haven’t done very much.” And finally he said, “Alice, get sick.” I did have the flu or a cold or something, and that gave me about two or three weeks, and I just slaved on it the whole time. I did my analysis of variance with a calculator. Can you believe it? The University of Maryland was not overly helpful. I finished it.
So, you graduated or you got your degree?
Yes, then Henning flew out for my orals.
And was anyone else besides Henning influential on your committee?
Well, Hayes Newby was very helpful. Actually he was my advisor because he was chairing the department at the University of Maryland, but nobody else on that committee was helpful at all. Hayes Newby and Henning were wonderful, and the rest of them forget it.
Was it a big load off your mind at that time?
An accomplishment too? I mean, did you feel really good about not only finishing, but getting it? Was that a nice feeling?
Yes, and that was practically — that was seven years after I’d passed my comprehensive exams. And by that time I’d started to date Jack, and yet I couldn’t spend much time with him because I just had to work on that dissertation. So finally I remember him saying, “Get the damn thing done.”
Still you’re working at night and sick; you’re still at EPA now?
Oh yes, still at EPA.
And how long after the dissertation did you switch or leave? Then you went to OSHA?
‘77 was when I finished the dissertation and got the degree. Then I went to OSHA in ‘78.
What was your title at OSHA? It was pretty odd. You were a GS 15 or something like that?
No, I was a GS-14. I was a Senior Scientist and Manager of the Noise Standard.
That was when Eula Bingham was there?
Eula Bingham was OSHA director and Head of Health Standards was…Well, anyway.
And Mort Corn was somewhat involved; I forget where. Okay. So you stayed at OSHA for — I remember you were frustrated with that Hearing Conservation Amendment. You were going to work on that 3 dB exchange rate stuff, but were you sort of pressured into — or how did that work that we just ended up with a Hearing Conservation Amendment?
Well, I wanted to have an 85 dB permissible exposure limit and a 3 dB exchange rate. That’s what EPA would have recommended years ago, but I think it was just politically impossible, and the hierarchy of OSHA wouldn’t support it.
Even in spite of that you were really the main primary creator of that amendment.
Yes. So we decided the second best thing was to amend the current standard, which was 90 decibels with a 5 dB tradeoff, for hearing conservation programs to begin at 85.
Right, that’s pretty good.
Better than nothing.
Yes. So, that was passed then. You stayed at OSHA?
Well, that became a final standard. The Hearing Conservation Amendment was published in the federal register on January 16, 1981. And then Reagan became President on January 20, 1981. Were you still there?
I was in the Federal Agency Programs then. No, I think I was with you; I think so.
I can’t remember.
Reagan became President and he put in Thorne Auchter.
Thorne Auchter was then the new OSHA Director. But the first thing the White House did, one of the first things, was to put a stay on that standard. So, that meant that it was on the books but it couldn’t be enforced. The AFL-CIO sued the administration for improperly staying this standard. The Reagan Administration called it a Midnight Standard, which is pretty accurate, but there were a whole bunch of others that had come out in the Labor Department at the same time, or around the same time. So the administration felt that if they lost this case, then all of the other Midnight Standards would pop into effect. What they did was they decided to put most of it into effect later that year. In August of that year most of the standards became effective, and they held back a few provisions like the noise measurement provisions and a few others, but mainly the noise measurement provisions. Then we had to work on those. I had to go to a bunch of meetings where everybody yelled and screamed about how this terrible standard was going to put them out of business. It didn’t.
No, and you were the front person for this?
The Manager of the Standard, Yes.
Yes, but you know it’s still there now. In a sense it’s a legacy.
Yes, it was pretty stressful — you remember. We got no support from the hierarchy of the agency. And at one point my boss pulled in somebody from NIOSH and just gave the standard to him. So then I had to work with this person, and then I had to try and convince everybody that it wasn’t going well. And it wasn’t going well at all; it never would have gotten out. So I complained, and I got it back. Then the lawyers were holding it up for a while.
Susan something, wasn’t it? I forgot her name.
And then actually, I think the person who really saved it was Marthe Kent, because she was working for Safety Standards, and by that time there had been an exodus from OSHA because the Republicans had already been elected and it was quite clear that all of the political appointees would have to leave. But Marthe was still there, and Sue Sherman was the lawyer and Marthe then ran interference with the lawyers and the technical people so that we would work together harmoniously and we got it out. I think Marthe was really the one that saved it.
Wow. Debbie is still there — do you remember Debbie? She’s still there.
Yes. Debbie Gabry.
She had a name like Debbie Feldman originally.
She was Debbie Feldman before.
Yes, then she had a baby or something and…
They got divorced and she changed her name to her maiden name, which is Gabry, and now she’s remarried to somebody else.
Yes, so she’s still there. She was brand new then.
Yes. She’s the only one that stuck it out until the bitter end and is still there.
So how did you manage to decide to leave?
I felt like I did my best to protect the Standard for another year and a half, and that it was going to be okay so that I could leave. And it was interesting, because Sue and I became good friends and we both worked together to try and protect as much of it as we could. We didn’t get most of the noise measurement requirement, but we got most — The rest of it is pretty much the way it was when it came out. There are some changes, but they weren’t bad.
Speaking of OSHA, Maryland OSHA is almost doing nothing anymore.
Noise, anyway, noise. And the Maryland Noise Control Program is defunded.
Okay, I didn’t mean to interrupt. Next story, go ahead.
I left OSHA in 1982 and I remember, in fact, I’d been thinking about, “I’m getting ready to leave this place, and one day I went into my boss’ office, who was John Martonic at that point. Very nice guy.
Martonic, wasn’t he in the other…I thought Martonic was not in Health Standards. I thought he was in the…
He was in Federal Programs for a while — Or Compliance. He was in Compliance.
With Dick. There was a guy Dick; I forget his name.
I can’t remember. But he had moved to Health Standards. So I walked into his office one day and I said, “Guess what?” He said, “You quit, right?” And I said, “How did you know?” [Laughs] But before that, I need to tell you another story. It’s about how the Standard was revised and at one point the Office of Management and Budget, OMB, said that they wanted to talk to OSHA representatives about this Noise Standard. And this was between ‘81 when the first version came out and ‘83 when the revised version came out.
And Reagan was…
Reagan was President, yes. A group of us went over to the Office of Management and Budget including a guy who was Thorne Auchter’s Deputy, Mark Cowen. Then maybe John Martonic or somebody from Health Standards, and me. They pushed this piece of paper across the table that had three paragraphs on it, and they said, “This will be yours, not ours.” And we said, “Well, what do you mean?” They said, “This is what the Noise Standard should look like. This is the performance standard we want you to adopt.” So we said, “Thank you very much,” and took it back and Mark Cowen gave it to Thorne Auchter, and it became known as the infamous three-paragraph alternative. Thorne Auchter said, No, he’s not going to do that. He doesn’t want some bureaucrats from the Office of Management and Budget telling him what to do. So we didn’t do it. And in the Preamble of the final regulation we had to explain why we weren’t doing it. [Chuckles] So, I was really grateful that Thorne Auchter didn’t want to get pushed around, because it really saved the Standard. Otherwise it would have been nothing.
He was political, right, a political appointee?
Yes, he was.
That’s amazing. Like Gonzales.
Well, not quite. Anyway, after that I quit and I started my consulting practice.
In D.C. Did you have any plans to work for a company again?
Oh, I was kind of open for business. I think right away OSHA wanted me to do something. I forget what it was.
You were also pretty famous then.
Not famous, I wouldn’t say.
Yes, well-known in a way.
So, I remember the Medical Director of Lockheed wanted me to help him with a booklet that he was writing, and I was working on a couple of lawsuits for noise induced hearing loss.
And you also did some, I don’t know when it was, but you also did some NIOSH books, I think as a consultant, or some books you were the editor or something?
Paperback kind of books, like the Levels Document. I remember seeing your name as a consultant.
As a consultant I worked on the revision of their Criteria Document. That was a little later. I did a large project for the Army on the effects of noise on speech intelligibility and the effects of noise on performance, and the effects of hearing loss on speech recognition, and the effects of hearing protectors on speech recognition. That later got published as an ASHA monograph, but it got published as four Army technical reports. That was a real interesting… It was basically a survey of the literature and coming to conclusions on that.
Did you know Mones Hawley? He was involved with speech intelligibility.
A little bit. But before we leave OSHA, I want to tell you what happened. At one point my husband Jack was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and he was treated at NIH with chemotherapy and surgery. He had a good result, and then three years later it came back in a lymph node, and at that point we decided to try alternative treatment. So we went to Germany. And while I was there, Evey Cherow, who was working for ASHA, let me know that a couple of manufacturing companies had sued OSHA to vacate the Hearing Conservation Amendment. A three-judge panel in the Fourth Circuit, I think that’s Virginia?
Oh, Virginia, I don’t know.
The Fourth Circuit actually agreed with them and vacated the Hearing Conservation Amendment. Just like that, three judges. The Chocolate Manufacturers and the American Iron and Steel Institute were the ones who sued. We were amazed that anyone sued, because by that time we thought it was like motherhood and apple pie, but they prevailed. So the next step was for OSHA to appeal the decision, and OSHA didn’t do it. By that time, Thorne Auchter left the government and somebody else was in his place. I kept waiting—In fact, this happened before we went to Germany, we kept waiting for somebody to tell me that OSHA had appealed the decision. And then a lot of groups, like ASHA and like NHCA, were saying, “Please, appeal this decision.” They did nothing. We had an interim. We came back to the US for about three weeks between treatments, and I found out that the OSHA director was going to testify before Congress along with the EPA administrator on the Bopal incident. Do you remember? The chemical plant exploded or something.
Right. Hundreds of people got killed.
Really? Anyway, they were all concerned that might happen in the US, so these two guys come up to Congress to testify. The congressman who was the head of that committee was also a friend of the steel workers, because he was a Pennsylvania congressman. So I called a fellow named Jack Sheehan, who is a lobbyist for the steel workers and I told him what was happening and that OSHA had not appealed this decision. They’d gotten two extensions, and the last extension was about to run out, and I thought this is terrible, we need to save this. The congressman was Joel Gaydos. Jack gave Gaydos a question to ask the OSHA director, “Why have you not appealed this decision?” So he asked him, and the OSHA director was dumbfounded by the question and he just mumbled something. So Gaydos asked him again, “Are you going to appeal this decision?” He kind of hemmed and hawed. And by this time Gaydos is angry and says, “Are you or are you not going to appeal this decision, sir?” And the guy said, “Yes, we are.” And the Solicitor’s Office had the appeal all ready. The next day they drove the appeal to Richmond, which was the last day of the last extension, and the appeal then went to the full circuit of eight judges, one of whom was one of the ones who had decided against OSHA before, and this time the whole panel of eight judges voted in favor of the appeal. So one judge reversed himself; the other one wasn’t part of the panel.
So that’s how it was saved.
Serendipitous, in a way.
Just crazy isn’t it?
Just by chance, almost. Wow. So, Jack was ill, and did those alternative things help?
Yes. Whatever it was cured him.
Incredible. And what made you think about doing alternative medicine? That’s unusual. There was nothing else?
Nothing else worked, and NIH had the best treatment at the time. It obviously didn’t work and Jack wasn’t ready to give up and neither was I.
Right. You came back from Europe, and everything was more or less okay, and then where? Then you went to Cincinnati?
Yes, we stayed here for another year and then we decided it was time to leave the East Coast.
What was Jack doing this time?
He’d retired from the federal government. He’d been working at EPA. And then when Jack Finklea became the director of NIOSH, he went to work for him, because they’d been close before when Finklea was in EPA. Then Jack Finklea left NIOSH and my husband Jack briefly worked for the Office on Smoking and Health, but this was during Reagan and he was unhappy there. He wasn’t able to do what he felt he should have been able to do, so he quit. He retired.
So when you went to Cincinnati, was it because you were familiar with it?
Well, Jack had been to Cincinnati quite a few times and he liked it.
Yes, it’s nice.
And I had actually met with Derrek Dunn, who was the Section Chief for Noise, with a project on construction noise that I thought he might like, and he said, “Yes fine, but come in here and do it as an employee.” So I said, “Okay.” Well, I asked Jack and he was all for it. We bought a house in Cincinnati and moved.
Wow. You were living right up here, near Silver Spring.
How long did you stay there?
And were you working all the time?
At NIOSH? No, I only worked at NIOSH about a year and a half.
The rest of the time you were a consultant?
And then how did you end up on the West Coast?
Well, even before we left the D.C. area we had heard about Ashland, read about it in a book, and met people who had moved there and just decided we wanted to go there.
That’s a pretty drastic move. Most people stay in one place.
And how about your family now, I guess folks had died by then?
My mother had died, my father died the same year that we moved; he had died earlier that year. Then Jack’s children live in this area so it was kind of hard to leave them.
Did you commute back and forth occasionally?
We did. We’d come back two or three times and year and they’d come out once or twice a year.
Ashland is really in between stuff, right? It’s hard to get to.
It’s very hard to get to, yes. No big cities anywhere near.
Quite interesting. I was thinking of going to live in Ashville, North Carolina, and yet there is nothing to get me there to check it out. If I want to go to New York City, okay I’ll go to New York, I’ll do something there. But Ashland… So, you have a house there?
Mm-hmm [yes], we built a house.
Oh, did you? A lot of land?
No, very small lot.
How many people are in Ashland?
21,000 — small.
That’s very nice. When I worked at Bruel & Kjaer I worked outside of Boston in a small town called Marlborough; at the time it was really small — nothing was there, really nice, pleasant. So, we’ve done a lot of the interview so far. You had no military training, nothing like that.
Except for my two years at the Air Force Base, but that’s not training.
Right. I’ve got a lot of stuff. Had you published anything solely as a book? Not a paper, but a book or any document like that that was your own, textbook or anything?
Well, that monograph from the Army that was published as an ASHA monograph. And then my dissertation was published as an EPA technical report, EPA-Air Force joint…
I remember seeing that.
But, no, I can’t think of anything else.
You knew Jack for a long time.
So, what made you decide to get married?
Well, while I was in Dayton, actually living in Yellow Springs not in Dayton, I remember a friend from the EPA said Jack had separated from his wife. So when I came back to D.C. I called him up then we just met informally, just dated a little bit. But it took eight months or so for us to get serious.
Wow, that’s pretty nice, a nice story. These are just simple questions; we’re almost done. What’s your favorite form of entertainment now? This is kind of silly, but you’ve got to round you out.
Yes, music absolutely.
Yes, listening and making music.
No, I don’t play the piano anymore. I play the recorder and I sing.
In a choir?
Yes, the local community choral group in Ashland. And then I sing in a choral group in Grant’s Pass, which is about 35 miles away from Ashland. Oh, and I’m the artistic director, actually the Chair of the Artistic Committee for our Chamber Music Series in Ashland, so I get to pick out the groups that we’re going to have for our series. We have 12 concerts a year, and we’ve had the Emerson String Quartet, and the Julliard Quartet, and the Tokyo, and some of the more famous string quartets.
Do you have to pay them to come out there?
Wow. Now so before we began to record on tape, you were telling me about your other job you’re working on. Tell me a little bit about that.
Well, Jack was elected to the Ashland City Council about three years ago, and he went through the campaigning, the whole bit, and he campaigned against an incumbent who had been there for many years, and Jack won. Then a year and a half later Jack died suddenly of a heart attack, we think. I was in England traveling at the time, and it was a terrible shock. I flew home immediately, and my life was pretty chaotic for a while. After a couple of weeks his friends asked me if I would step forward for his position. At first I said absolutely not, but after a while I relented and did apply to the Council. The remaining councilors (5 of them) appointed me, and then a few months later I had to run for re-election, which I did and won. It was a baptism by fire — not the career path I had expected.
Did you know Council business and things?
Not much, only what he and I had talked about. We had talked about a lot, but I realized once I got on the Council that I didn’t know anything compared with what I needed to learn.
And what does the Council do? Enact laws and ordinances?
Ordinances, yes, and we make policy decisions and budget decisions.
Is it a paid position?
It’s not. How much time does it take?
I figure it takes between 20 and 30 hours a week. It’s huge, really. And it’s a very sophisticated community — everybody’s got an opinion. The city government is very transparent, so all of the meetings are open and they’re televised. Anybody can come and testify during the public forum, and the public is included on most major decisions.
Do things like zoning come in there?
So you deal with that too?
Right, changes in the zoning and changes in — well, annexations, so there is the whole growth-versus-no-growth issue. And then recently our libraries have all been closed because the federal funding for a lot of the western communities has been cut off because of the war. And so we have to figure out how to reopen our library, and we’re going to have to put forth a levy to get the citizens to pay.
You’ll levy a property tax or something?
Yes, a levy will be an additional property tax.
Which some people will be against.
They’re against it. People are against practically everything we do, but that’s how it is.
Right. And how often do you meet?
Well, we meet twice every two weeks. Every two weeks we meet on a Monday and then on a Tuesday. Then in between, each Counselor is on three commissions, so we have commission meetings once or twice a month.
Which ones are you on?
I’m on the Housing Commission and the Public Arts Commission, and the Band Board. The Band Board is the easy one; the others are more work. The Housing Commission is the hard one, and that has subcommittees. That’s the real — I was a Housing Commissioner before I became one of the Council.
So, you’ve had time to get involved with the local community.
Oh yes. So my work really has kind of suffered.
Yes, but, I mean, you can afford it. You’re living okay and everything, so there are no hardships.
Yes. I have my government pension, which isn’t very big, but I also have half of Jack’s government pension and my Social Security so I’m doing okay.
That’s a nice position to be in.
Do you think you’ll stay there for a while, Ashland?
Is your brother still alive?
Yes, he lives in Princeton, New Jersey.
Oh, I see. Do you get to see him? Are you friends with him?
Oh yes, we’re pretty close. We see each other at least twice a year and we talk every week or so.
So, how about coming here? You came here today, or this week, to visit?
To visit my new grandchild, my step-grandchild, but anyway. Yes, in Baltimore, and to see, of course, Robert and his wife Lori. Then I’ll go down to Richmond to see Marianne Hardesty-Young and her husband.
So, Jack’s kids were Marianne and Robert?
Are you driving? Do you rent a car; is that how you come down?
No, I’m taking the train, Yes. It’s easy.
Almost done here. I guess I asked but I guess I didn’t — Your plan is to more or less probably stay in Ashland. That’s where you want to live?
Well, Yes. I think I’ll probably stay, but I conceivably could move, but if I move anywhere it’d probably be Portland, Oregon. I don’t want to move back to the East Coast.
Two: a dog and a cat. They’re great company.
They are. Do you have a pet sitter minding them now?
Yes. Fortunately I’ve got a cadre of three very responsible pet sitters so that I feel like I can travel easily.
Yes, I do too, but I miss my cat. I really miss him when I’m away a long time.
All right, I don’t have anything else here, but I guess is there anything you’d like to add that you want to include on the tape? If not, you can always add it later after if you think of something after we edit this thing. Is there anything especially we might have missed?
Oh Yes, I was thinking more about the Acoustical Society and how many good friends and colleagues and people have influenced me, and I should have mentioned Charles Schmidt, who has been a friend and colleague. Then also, you know, I edited Echoes.
Right, you were the first.
Charles and I started Echoes together, and we did it together for maybe a couple of years, and then I edited it alone, this time for pay, for about seven years. Or maybe seven years all together. I loved it; it was really, really fun.
That’s a nice magazine. It’s funny how I still get the journal now only on CD, and I don’t open it. Do you read it? Do you still read the journal?
Not much. I usually read the table of contents. There isn’t much on noise anymore, or at least not on the effects of noise, which is my real interest.
Right. I just attended the Technical Program Organizing Committee for New Orleans.
It’s going to be in New Orleans?
New Orleans, yes, in December, or the end of November. And where it’s going to be, the hotel, you’d never know anything was wrong, except the streets are less crowded by a lot. It’s like a small town, almost. And that’s the main entertainment there. They’ve got the casinos; all of that stuff is running. But it must be very hard for everybody. Maybe that’s the reason ASA picked it. I think they may have picked it in advance. Katrina’s only been two years, I think, when they picked it. But to get to your point about the Noise Committee, so I was a Noise Program Organizer. There are going to be two sessions on Noise that are really animal bioacoustics at the joint, or the globalization of sound, something like that, one on lawnmower noise and one on soundscapes with Bridgette Schulte-Fortkamp.
Yes, I remember her.
And one on rain noise.
I know, rain.
On the tin roof?
Yes. I’m actually giving a paper on that just to fill up the session, because there wasn’t enough. So it might be quite interesting; I’m sort of looking forward to it. But I mostly go to committee meetings now. I don’t go to any technical sessions in general. I just don’t have time to visit.
Yes. Oh, I just thought of something else that we didn’t include and that was that I was a board member of the Noise Pollution Clearing House for several years in Vermont. Yes, Les Blomberg. And I enjoyed that. Red Wetherill is on the board now. They’re a good organization. And without EPA’s Office of Noise Abatement, it’s good at least we have something like that to help people out, because I think it probably does very much to help people out.
Much, and Rutgers Technical Assistance Center, that still I think is still going.
It’s still going.
It’s going, right? A little bit anyway, yes. Otherwise, that’s mostly it. Although now, I think that’s a very good resource. But people now they go onto the web for anything. It’s so different from when we were…
Incredible, but there is so much hooey on the web. You can pick something out and think it’s real, but you don’t know, you know? But the Noise Pollution Clearing House is really good for the compilation of codes and stuff like that.
In fact I used them, because I was trying to get — Every year Ashland has this Fourth of July parade that’s this big celebration, and people come from all over the county to enter their float and everything. Every year there is this Hell’s Angels motorcycle, the Harley crew that comes in as part of the parade, and they’ve all straightened their mufflers and it’s just awful. And the babies cry and everyone holds their ears, and they rev their motors. So I said to our new Police Chief and our Chamber of Commerce director, “We’ve got to do something about this.” So, I went on to the Noise Pollution Clearing House website and I looked up EPA’s motorcycle regulation, which is still on the books. EPA did a lot of very good work.
Yes, even heavy duty trucks, too.
Yes. And there are a lot of these things that are still there. So I printed out copies of the regulations and gave them to the Chamber and the Police Chief, and they had a little trouble with them. Finally they got them to voluntarily agree not to rev their motors, and they were a lot quieter this year.
That’s good. Maryland has a noise regulation for vehicles, a stationary measurement, but no money to enforce.
Yes, that’s too bad.
Yes. All right well, let’s stop. It’s 9:30 now. Thank you very much. This is good.
Okay this is the second tape. We’re on the second tape, and Alice was going to say a couple of things, but first, what was your dissertation on?
The ability of people with mild sensory-neural hearing loss to understand speech in noise.
That’s really important.
Well, it was. I thought so.
Did you get any publications out of it, or papers?
Well, it was published in the journal actually in JASA, first as an EPA technical report and then in JASA. It’s been quoted a lot because I think it sort of started the ball rolling on looking at what frequencies are important for understanding speech in noise. The American Medical Association finally changed its formula to include higher frequencies, and mine was one of the papers that they quoted.
Wonderful. It would be nice; by the way, if when you get to sign these things you send a resume.
Oh sure, I’d be glad to do that.
Yes, that’d be good.
And the other thing. Two things. One is that I did run for Vice President of ASA. I ran against Jiri Tichy. He won. I was asked to run again several times and I thought, “Well, no thanks.” And then I received the ASA’s Distinguished Service Award. That was about seven or eight years ago. It was nice.
Yes. You know, it’s hard to get to be a higher officer in ASA unless you’re an academic. I was noticing that the technical committee chairs in general, except Noise, are almost all academics.
Yes, they are.
Did you chair that committee? Did you chair Noise ever?
Well, that’s pretty good credentials.
Oh, I did teach. I’m not an academic; I never really was. But I taught Audiology to graduate students at Gallaudet for several years. After I stopped OSHA I did that.
Did you have to do sign language and stuff?
No, these are hearing students.
Oh, hearing. You learned sign language though, huh?
I did. I had to learn it as part of my Master’s degree, but I was terrible at it, never any good.
It’s very hard. My mind just doesn’t go that way.
That’s the way I feel about reading music. I have so much trouble reading music. When I see people play a piece that’s very hard, I wonder how they can translate that to the fingers or whatever.
Do you play the piano?
I used to play. I’ve forgotten; I don’t think I could play a note anymore, but I did. It was fun. Do you have a piano in your house?
Just the recorder?
The recorder. And the flute; I played the flute for a while.
Okay, so this is the end of the second tape. Okay, good.