Gilbert Ratliff: Conscientious people person drives change at the Lab

The ‘Iceman’ delivers

February 15, 2023

Gil Ratliff

A skinny high school senior toes the free throw line, bounces the ball twice and glances at the scoreboard: 59-60 with four seconds on the clock. It’s 1980 and the Los Alamos Hilltoppers boys’ basketball team is playing at Albuquerque High in the finals — the winning team goes to the New Mexico State Tournament. He sinks both shots.

“I shoot nothing but net, twice. We win by one and go to state,” says Gilbert Ratliff, staff operations manager with Infrastructure and Capital Projects. “Ever since then, a friend calls me ‘the Iceman’.”

Hiring for mission growth

Gilbert’s signature chill-under-pressure demeanor has endured all these years. He says he’s relied on it to create a calm and productive work environment for himself, his managers and his staff during his 26 years at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Gilbert Ratliff, second from right, celebrates the Hilltoppers’ victory moments after sinking his winning free throws.
Gilbert Ratliff, second from right, celebrates the Hilltoppers’ victory moments after sinking his winning free throws.

Gilbert works with Human Resources generalists and project management organizations to meet the quantity and quality of the Laboratory’s project management demand. “We’re developing and refining strategies to attract candidates, drafting appropriate job descriptions, identifying qualified candidates, participating in interviews, moving through the bureaucracy of paperwork and ensuring onboarding goes smoothly,” he explains.

0213 Lab Character Ratliff Family

Within the Infrastructure and Capital Projects Directorate (ALDICP), he supports the Project Management Division. “Even though I seem calm, cool and collected, I have to keep it all organized, and I will rearrange my priorities as needed,” he says. 

“Gilbert is conscientious and accurate, which makes him a great staff operations manager,” says Mike Pappas. PM-DO division leader. “Gilbert plays a vital role in managing the hiring process, which was invaluable as we doubled the number of project managers on staff last

A family that plays together

Gilbert’s roots are deep in the Los Alamos community — his family moved here in 1963 for his father to work at the Lab. Robert Ratliff was mentored by Nobel Prize–winning biochemist Edward A. Doisy while completing his doctorate.

“Dad honestly was brilliant,” Gilbert says. “Part of his work here was on the Human Genome Project.”

Growing up in “the bubble of Los Alamos,” Gilbert and his brother developed lifelong friendships with the children from other young families populating the company town. The families gathered every Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve and played volleyball, a tradition started in 1965.

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(From left to right) Gilbert Ratliff, Anthony Saponara, Mike Whalen and Gilbert’s brother Greg Ratliff at a family and friends gathering.

“I felt very safe in the community,” Gilbert says. “I played sports and loved the outdoors and hiking. I was naive to what living outside Los Alamos was like. As someone of color, I guess I didn’t notice it much, and there weren’t many people of color.”

He did recall being refused service at the pharmacy as a boy, but “I walked out of there thinking, ‘Where am I gonna get my Razzles and Zotz?’ and not about prejudice — it was something to recognize and move on from.”

Gilbert and Linda raised their daughters here. Sidra lives in Washington, D.C., and their oldest, Gillian, is a technical project manager at the Laboratory. The family picked up the pickleball habit in Puerto Vallarta on vacation, and they all continue to play together.

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A people person with a psychology degree

Although he has filled a variety of roles working for the Lab, Gilbert says it was always the people here who made it a place he would stay for so long. But how did he get to the Laboratory with a degree in psychology and work experience with Pan American World Airways?

“I’m a real people person, and a psychology degree helps you understand peoples’ emotions and behavioral processes as they go through their day-to-day lives,” he explains. “At PanAm, I conducted performance observations to identify issues to help improve work processes. Throughout my career, I’ve worked with people and tried to develop tools that will help them.” 

He also worked at the Laboratory as a college student. “A lot of Lab employees were students here first,” he adds. “I was part of that big pipeline.”

In 1997, Gilbert was hired in Quality and Planning, where he helped develop goals and metrics for the Department of Energy to assess the Lab. In this role, he was exposed to finance, human resources and IT processes. “It was a great way to learn about the organization, and I met a lot of people.”