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Reatha Belle Clark King
Reatha King 2009.jpg
Born April 11, 1938 (1938-04-11) (age 82)
Alma mater
Occupation chemist and businesswoman
Employer General Mills, Inc.

Reatha Clark King (born April 11, 1938) is an American chemist, the former vice president of the General Mills Corporation; and the former president, executive director, and chairman of the board of trustees of the General Mills Foundation, the philanthropic foundation of General Mills, Inc.

Early life and education

Reatha Belle Clark was born in Pavo, Georgia, United States on April 11, 1938. Her father, Willie B. Clark, was a sharecropper, and her mother, Ola Mae Watts Campbell, had only a third-grade education.

Reatha Clark began elementary school in a one-room school for grades 1–7, at Mt. Zion Baptist, a colored church, where she was taught by Florence Frazier. Later, she attended school in Coolidge, Georgia, and high school in Moultrie, Georgia. When she graduated from Moultrie High School for Negro Youth in 1954, the same year that Brown v. Board of Education determined segregated schools were illegal, Clark was the valedictorian of her class.

Clark was recruited to attend Clark College in Atlanta, where she initially enrolled as a home economics major. She was encouraged to become a research chemist by the head of the chemistry department there, Alfred Spriggs. King earned a bachelor of science degree in chemistry and mathematics from Clark College.

Spriggs encouraged her to apply for a fellowship from the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, which she received from 1958-1960. The fellowship supported her work at the University of Chicago, from which she obtained a master of science degree in chemistry in 1960. She went on to study with advisor Ole J. Kleppa, receiving her Ph.D. degree in thermochemistry from the University of Chicago in 1963. The title of her Ph.D. thesis was "Contributions to the thermochemistry of the Laves phases." While in Chicago she also met and married N. Judge King.

Reatha Clark King later earned a Master's in business administration in finance management from Columbia University while on sabbatical.

Scientific and academic career

King was employed for five years (1963–1968) as a research chemist for the National Bureau of Standards in Washington, D.C. Hired by George T. Armstrong, King was the first African American female chemist to work at the agency. She used techniques for both bomb and flame calorimetry. Much of her work there involved measuring the accurate heats of formation of gaseous fluorine compounds, and she received a Meritorious Publication Award for her paper on fluoride flame calorimetry. This research was important to the NASA space program. Her two children were born during this time. Techniques and mechanisms that she developed for flame fluorine calorimetry are still used.

King and her family moved to New York when her husband accepted a position at Nassau Community College, Garden City, New York. King obtained an assistant professorship at York College, City University of New York. There she served as professor of chemistry, 1968–1977, associate dean for Division of Natural Science & Mathematics, 1970-1974, and associate dean for academic affairs, 1974–1977.

She moved to Minneapolis–Saint Paul, Minnesota, to become president of Metropolitan State University, where she worked from 1977 to 1988. She helped to substantially expand the university, and promoted involvement of minorities and women in higher education. Her husband joined the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company (3M) as a research chemist.

Business career

In 1988, King was recruited by General Mills in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to serve in two roles. She became vice president of the General Mills Corporation and president and executive director of the General Mills Foundation. She remained in these positions from 1988 to 2002. In 2002, she was elected as chairman of the board of trustees of General Mills Foundation, and served in this position for a further year, retiring completely from General Mills in 2003. Under her leadership the General Mills Foundation, originally established in 1954, has been active both locally and nationally in philanthropic and community service.

King has served on the boards of a number of other corporations, including ExxonMobil, Wells Fargo & Company; Department 56; Minnesota Mutual Companies; and the H. B. Fuller Company. She has also served with nonprofits, such as the International Trachoma Initiative, Allina Health, the Council on Foundations, the National Association of Corporate Directors, and the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.

She has served as a trustee with Clark Atlanta University, and is a Life Trustee for the University of Chicago. She is a member of the American Council on Education and the Executive Leadership Council in Washington, D.C. She has a particularly strong interest in education, and has stated: "I realized early in life that education is our best enabling resource, that technical skills are important, and that my stamina for championing educational opportunity for all people is inexhaustible."

Awards and honors

King has received at least fourteen honorary degrees, and many other awards. These include:

  • The Governor's Civil Rights Legend Award, 2019.
  • International Citizen Award, 2013, from the International Leadership Institute (ILI), Minneapolis, MN.
  • Louis W. Hill, Jr. Fellow in Philanthropy at the Hubert H. Humphrey Center of the University of Minnesota, 2004.
  • Director of the Year, from the National Association of Corporate Directors, 2004.
  • One of Ebony magazine's Top 50 Black Executives in Corporate America, 1992.
  • Exceptional Black Scientist Award from CIBA-GEIGY Corporation, 1984.
  • Defender of Democracy Award from the Washington, DC. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation.
  • Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Minneapolis-St. Paul Alumnae Chapter, 1979.
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