Joseph Dear, who was the ninth assistant secretary of labor for OSHA who served from November 1993 to January 1997, died of prostate cancer on Feb. 26. He was 62.
“While the world of occupational safety and health has lost a great defender, his legacy will live on for the many years to come. Our hearts go out to his family and loved ones,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor Dr. David Michaels.
During Dear’s time as the ninth assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, he “made a series of lasting impacts that we are still benefitting from to this very day,” said Michaels. “He was a bold and forward-thinking leader who embraced innovation, bringing technological advancements to the agency that have revolutionized the way we do our work.”
Michaels said Dear “strove to hold employers accountable by increasing penalties for willful violations and finalized some of our most important worker protection standards for electrical power generation, construction and shipyard safety, hazard communication and personal protective equipment.”
Dear came to OSHA from the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, where he was director. Dear also served as chief of staff to Washington state Gov. Gary Locke.
Most recently, Dear served as the chief financial officer for the California Public Employee Retirement System (CalPERS). Dear was hired by the CalPERS Board of Administration in 2009 when the financial industry was suffering from the global recession, resulting in a loss of one fourth of CalPERS assets in its portfolio. When Dear took over, the fund had assets of $165 billion. He guided the largest public pension fund portfolio in the nation to more than recoup all of its financial losses. At the time of his death, the pension fund had more than $283 billion in assets.
In a statement, the CalPERS board said, “Words cannot express the loss that the CalPERS family feels at this time. Joe was an invaluable member of the CalPERS Executive Team, an incredible leader of the Investment Office and a good friend to all those who knew and worked closely with him. We will miss Joe, his passion for excellence in performance and his sharp wit and humor.”
The American Industrial Hygiene Association released a statement noting that Dear took over as assistant secretary of labor shortly after AIHA moved its national office to Washington, D.C., in order to become more involved in public policy issues.
“Joe became a strong supporter of AIHA, recognizing the importance of occupational health and safety professionals’ knowledge and expertise in making advances to protect worker health,” said the statement from AIHA. “There is no doubt that AIHA’s credibility and influence greatly increased because of Joe and his recognition of associations like AIHA. He will be remembered and sorely missed for his efforts to protect workers.”
Dear's family has established the Joseph A. Dear Memorial Scholarship Endowment in his name at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., his alma mater. He graduated in 1976 with a bachelor's degree in political economy.