Finding a good time to interview 98 year old Harriet Cloud, grandmother of Upward 2020 alumna Chelsea Brewton , was challenging because her schedule was completely packed. Once we talked, you could tell that despite a busy week, she was calm and collected. She has been dedicated to healthcare since she graduated in 1944, and she is a “lifetime learner,” according to her granddaughter. Just the other day, Harriet was looking to take classes on web design to develop a site for her business, Nutrition Matters. Harriet’s tenacity and curiosity are unique attributes that have allowed her to stay up to date as the field of dietetics has changed over the past seven decades.
Harriet had her eyes on the goal from the start. She majored in dietetics at Kansas State, interned at John Hopkins, taught at a nursing school, got married, and then moved to Birmingham, where she had eight children. She took time off to be at home with her babies but started working again as they got older.
Harriet was employed by the Jefferson County Health Department as their only nutritionist in 1958. She developed a heart for underserved populations as she assisted clients with food stamps and frequently traveled to housing projects in the city. She also began her foray into extracurricular leadership as chairman of the nutrition council at United Way.
“If you want to be a leader, you can be a leader.”
However, it helps to have support. Even though many women were facing discrimination in the workplace at the time, she only received support from her male colleagues. Harriet partially attributes this anomaly to the fact that the field of dietetics is made up of many women.
When asked if it was challenging to manage eight children and a position at the health department and UAB, she responded, “not really.”
Her grit and determination carried her through twenty-seven years in dietetics at the Sparks Center at UAB where she developed leadership grants and taught graduate students. According to Harriet, she would tell her classes, “I got up at 5 am, and I hope you did too,” when explaining the importance of hard work. Shortly before she accepted the position at the Sparks Center, she completed a master’s in nutrition at the University of Alabama. This degree gave her more access to opportunities there and eventually led to her becoming interim director. She encourages students to continue to learn and gain degrees as they lead to more career opportunities.
Looking back on her career, Harriet attributes her strength to self-esteem, a spiritual base, optimism, and persistence. She has been successful in her pursuit of leadership, but she acknowledges that many women face a variety of challenges in that pursuit. For example, the field of dietetics has a low percentage of Black women, and workplaces have to acknowledge why this gap exists and how to promote diversity in the short-term.
Working mothers still face the dilemma of balancing childcare and their careers. Harriet is a proponent of daycare coordinated by employers, but she recognizes that this mission has a long way to go.
Harriet’s main takeaway from 76 years of working is that you need to like what you do. When you take a job, always look for other opportunities or projects you can pursue. We’re excited to see what Harriet will accomplish in year 77 of her career!