Carmen Hooker Buell, widow of former UNC Chancellor Michael Hooker, was appointed secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Easley also appointed Lyndo Tippett as secretary of the Department of Transportation and Eugene Conti as the department's chief deputy.
Hooker Buell has extensive experience in the health care field, including her current position as adjunct professor in UNC's School of Public Health and her services on the Massachusetts joint legislative committee on health care. Hooker Buell now works for a Research Triangle Park-based drug research company.
Hooker Buell said she is grateful to Easley for allowing her to return to public service.
"This is an opportunity for me to get back in the public sector," Hooker Buell said. "To work in the place I love, and do the thing I love."
She cited several important issues that the department will have to deal with over the next few years -- including improving the mental health care system, providing long-term care for senior citizens and continuing to serve children.
"Our department is committed to helping the most vulnerable in our society," Hooker Buell said.
But she said that in light of the state's current budget shortfall, one of the department's more immediate priorities will be finding a way to make health care in North Carolina more fiscally efficient.
"We're going to look with a fine-tooth comb at everything we do -- looking for areas to make more efficient, looking for areas to cut," Hooker Buell said. "But this also gives us an opportunity to be creative and come up with new ideas."
Health and Human Services and Transportation traditionally have the two largest budgets of any Cabinet agencies in the state.
Tippett also cited the state's budget deficit as one of the main problem his department will have to address.
But Tippett said the state legislature recognized the need to maintain quality public transportation in North Carolina.
He added that one of the state's more immediate needs is repairing old roads.
"There are many roads that we have simply worn out," he said. "We have to resolve the maintenance issue."
Thomas Wright was also appointed Thursday to the post of director of the Office of State Personnel.
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