APA picks African-American as CEO, first in its 110-year history

By Henry Saeman, Editor
September 1, 2002 - Last updated: May 31, 2011

Norman H. Anderson, 6-2, a sprightly, lean, athletic 46-year-old psychologist with a science and administrative background, has become the first African-American to be elected APA’s chief executive officer in its 110-year history.

He replaces Raymond B. Fowler, Ph.D. about Jan. 1. Fowler has been the longest serving APA CEO.

Robert Sternberg, Ph.D., who co-chaired the Search Committee that gained a unanimous endorsement for Anderson, made it sound simple: “We were looking for he best leader and we believe we found that person.”

When Anderson appeared before the APA Council of Representatives during the August APA convention, he received a rousing welcome. He held out Ray Fowler as a legend.

Asked for specifics on what stood out about Anderson, leading to his nomination by the Search Committee, Sternberg added:

“He was the most qualified person for the job because of his personal characteristics, his background, his vision and leadership qualities and his understanding of what APA would need in the future.” Sternberg continued that Anderson will be a “compelling leader who will steer APA into the next 5-10 years.”

The election of a black man to APA’s highest leadership position went almost unnoticed, a phenomenon of America today compared with 30 years ago. Responding to the question by a reporter, the virtually unanimous reaction was: “It shows how far we have come as a nation.” Or: “Competence counts, not race or gender.”

Anderson’s three prominent venues of employment were Duke University, the National Institutes of Health, and Harvard University.

At Duke, he conducted research on the role of stress and high blood pressure, particularly its effect on African-Americans with a high blood pressure rate. During the past two years at Harvard, his emphasis turned to health communications–communicating effectively what psychologists do and why it is important to the public. Also, while at Harvard, he became much involved in a media-related project at Boston’s WGBH-TV on topics dealing with psychology and health.

His future, as he envisions it, is likely to focus on solving problems of society, “making a positive impact in the world, especially in healthcare” which, he says, it at the top of his agenda, closely followed by topics centering on business and science, both of which have to do with creating opportunities for psychologists.

Anderson stems from a progeny of ministers and psychologists. Both parents were “co-ministers” at a Baptist church in Greensboro, NC for 50 years. A cousin retired from teaching psychology at Brown University; a brother held a faculty position at the University of Denver and was a former president of the Colorado psychology licensing board.

Since leaving NIH two years ago and moving to Harvard, the Andersons have lived in Providence, RI, familiar stomping grounds for both him and his wife of 16 years, Elizabeth. She is a writer on health and fitness issues for the Providence Journal.

Anderson admits to an addiction, an uncommon craving: Consuming Krispy Kreme donuts by the dozen or a dozen at a time. He assures he has learned to control the habit which has sometimes seemed irresistible. He and Elizabeth recently finished a draft copy of their joint book venture, Emotional Longevity: What really determines how long you live, to be published in early 2003 by Penguin-Putnam.

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