Marta Moret — a Red Sox fan, historic gardener and Yale’s new first lady — seems to have time for everything. The devoted wife of President-elect Peter Salovey is a president herself: She heads Urban Policy Strategies, a research and policy consulting group consisting of African American and Latina women who conduct community-based research and assist underserved populations. Just yesterday Moret was on the road, evaluating a federally funded project supporting three Native American tribes. In fact, traveling is part of Moret’s daily routine — her projects frequently take her to different corners of Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York. She also mentors student interns at the Southern Connecticut State University and loves reading literary biographies. In an interview with WEEKEND, Moret discussed her daily routine and her 27-year-long relationship with Salovey.
Q. You told us you are traveling for work! Can you tell us what the purpose of your trip is?
A. I am now at the Mashantucket Reservation in Ledyard, Conn. I am the evaluator for a federally-funded project that links all three Native American tribes in the area — Mashantucket, Pequot and Mohegan — to community and tribal resources to create a model of community-based, integrated and collaborative mental health services.
Q. How did your interest in public health develop, to eventually culminate in your involvement with Urban Policy Strategies?
A. Well, what a good question. After college, I worked for the Connecticut Union of Telephone Workers where I was the director of research and education. I was working with the University of Wisconsin Labor Studies Center to design, administer and analyze a survey on occupational stress among telephone workers. I fell in love with what I call the art of applied science. I had a unique opportunity to study the effects of repetitive work and address it as a negotiable issue at the collective bargaining table.
When I graduated from Yale, the HIV/AIDS epidemic was spreading into the heterosexual community and Latino and African American families affected by this virus were of keen interest to me. As a Puerto Rican I was also strongly committed to work on maternal health issues for Latina women, and I became the executive director of the Hispanic Health Council in Hartford where we got the first family-oriented HIV/AIDS prevention grant from the State Department of Public Health. Somewhere along the line, I worked with Lowell Weicker on childhood lead poisoning and when he became Governor, I became his deputy commissioner for the Department of Social Services. In the 90s, I formed Urban Policy Strategies, LLC. It is a dream realized. We are a small group of women of color. My partner is Gretchen Chase Vaughn, an alumna of Yale College. We focus on nonprofits serving underserved, low-income children and families of color. And, we are committed to using the rigors of social science and epidemiology to demonstrate that public health interventions run by community groups can work.
Q. What does Mrs. Marta Moret’s typical day look like?
A. I get up by 6:30 a.m. and Portia (the dog) and I meet our dog friends at Edgerton Park, have breakfast with Peter and sit down by 8:30 a.m. to do email and get my work going. I work a lot with student interns from the public health school at Southern Connecticut State University where we talk about community-based participative research — a concept that bridges academic and community needs in public health. And, depending on the project, I am off to a different part of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York or some other place. Most evenings, when Peter gets home, I am entering data or writing reports or writing grant proposals.
Q. What do you and President-elect Salovey enjoy doing in your free time?
A. Because our days are so full — including weekends — when we have down time, we love reading and taking walks. In the summer, the Red Sox games are a must.
Q. In what ways do you expect to support President-elect Salovey in his new role?
A. As you know, I met Peter at Yale and I share his love and commitment to the University. It is our home and nothing pleases us more than being in this position. I very much look forward to being by his side as often as I can.
Q. What were you doing when you first heard of President-elect Salovey’s appointment to the Yale presidency? What was your initial reaction?
A. I was at home in my office working on some research issues. When Peter came upstairs and told me the news, I was wildly delighted. You know, even after 27 years of marriage, I am still awed by how amazing Peter is.
Q. How did you and President-elect Salovey celebrate his appointment to the Yale presidency?
A. We went for a long, long walk trying to take it all in and dreaming about the wonderful years ahead of us.
Q. How do you think your life might change now that you and President-elect Salovey are Yale’s new first couple?
A. We have always been a couple very actively involved in all aspects of Yale. I am just going to enjoy more of it.
Q. If you had to describe President-elect Salovey in one word, what would it be and why?
A. Mensch. He is one of the most intelligent men I know. But that intelligence is combined with a generosity of spirit I have seen in few people.
Q. To what extent do your private and professional lives intersect?
A. Almost all the time. Yale is our home. We have a number of friends we see both professionally and personally. We relax by going to student functions — sports, music, theater, you name it. We enjoy walking around Yale on those nights we have time, saying hello to students, faculty and staff.
Q. What is the last book you read? Did you enjoy it?
A. Don’t ask me why, but I have taken to reading several books at the same time. I love literary biographies so I am finishing Margot Peters biography of May Sarton. I enjoyed it, but then nothing is more interesting to me than the complex human process by which art is created. I also love reading about strong women, and Sotomayor’s “My Beloved World” is wonderful. I am a Bronx-born Puerto Rican and I get to step back into my life through her memories. Finally, for me there is something ingenious about short stories. The notion of encapsulating into a few pages all that is evocative of the novel is pure joy to me. Ron Rash’s “Burning Bright” are short stories set in Appalachia. Peter and I took a memorable trip into Appalachia a couple of summers ago and it left me wanting to know more.
Q. Could you tell us a little more about your interest in historic gardening? How did that interest develop?
A. Ah yes. Well, I have always been a gardener. It is my way of relaxing. But, if you remember, I am also a researcher. When I got my master gardener certificate from the University of Connecticut, I got interested in maintaining the historical significance of Connecticut gardens so I started working on a wonderful colonial garden in Haddam — the Thankful Arnold House. I don’t do a lot of collecting of heirloom seeds, but keeping gardens anchored in their heritage and with native plants is what I like to do.
Q. How did you start working with minority populations in Connecticut?
A. My interest began long ago. When I was 13 I went to the mountains of Puerto Rico, where much of my family comes from. I was amazed to see children who did not have basic prevention-oriented health care. There was a beautiful little girl with chronic ear infections, but there were few medical resources to address it. Of course, things have changed since those early days of the 60s, but back then I vowed someday I would give back to the people who made me what I am. I’ve never looked back.
Q. What is your favorite thing about Yale?
A. Yale produces amazing leaders. Our students jump at the chance to take in all that Yale has to offer. And, then they become artists, writers, politicans, lawyers, athletes; captains of industry and entrepreneurs; community leaders in health, community development. You name it, there are Yalies who are at the forefront of it. And we get to praise them when they come back for reunions. It doesn’t get any better.
Q. What is one piece of advice you would offer Yale students?
A. The world, all aspects of it, is changing dramatically. At no time in our world history has the intellect and leadership of Yale students been more important. As Rick Levin says, pick something you are passionate about and go after it.