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Passings / John R. Ottina

HEW official for 2 presidents

October 03, 2008|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

John R. Ottina, 76, the 20th U.S. commissioner of education and assistant secretary of administration and management in the former Department of Health, Education and Welfare, died Sept. 30 of pancreatic cancer at his home in Marshall, Va.

Born in Los Angeles to parents who had emigrated from the Piemonte region of Italy, Ottina was raised speaking Italian. He picked up Spanish in his Watts neighborhood and learned English upon entering 79th Street Elementary School. He earned his degree at UCLA and his doctorate at USC.

After teaching mathematics and counseling students in the Los Angeles Unified School District, Ottina worked as vice president of the military division of System Development Corp.

While at HEW during the administrations of Presidents Nixon and Ford, Ottina was known for his low-key but forceful approach and his ability to get to the heart of an issue. "With John in the administration, we never had to worry whether things were being done right," said Frank C. Carlucci, who was deputy secretary of the agency when Ottina was there. "We knew they were."

After leaving HEW in 1977, Ottina became a vice president of American Management Systems of Northern Virginia. He retired in 1990.

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