It was with great sadness and shock that we learned of the passing of Retta Ward, Cabinet Secretary of the NM Dept. of Health. Retta (she preferred using first names) was wonderful to work with. She was a careful listener and a conscientious, knowledgeable, and dedicated public servant, as well as a warm and caring person. She had a gift for making everyone feel they had a special relationship with her.
Secretary Ward often ventured out from the security of her fourth-floor office to interact with her employees, colleagues, and constituents. She could often be seen walking briskly around the block outside the Runnels Building with colleagues, or stopping to say hi in doorways. Her leadership style was to hire good people and then allow, inspire, and support them to do their best—even if it meant changing the way things had been done in the bureaucracy for years.
In 2015, the New Mexico Alliance of Health Councils joined with other public health groups to organize a Public Health Day at the Legislature, with a noontime program in the Capitol Rotunda. Secretary Ward stopped by, stayed the whole time, and gave an eloquent, impromptu talk on how public health efforts are addressing some of the intractable health issues that we face in New Mexico. This year, she agreed to have the Dept. of Health co-sponsor the event.
Six months ago, we had a meeting in a county health office with representatives of several northern New Mexico counties who had expressed serious concerns about recent Department of Health actions. Halfway through the meeting, Retta came in (unannounced and unexpected), listened carefully, asked questions, and responded thoughtfully.
We will miss her very much.
Ron Hale Executive Director New Mexico Alliance of Health Councils
(Published in the Santa Fe New Mexican, Tuesday, March 8, 2016)