Obituary: When civic activist Alberta Slavin saw a need, she acted | St. Louis Public Radio

Obituary: When civic activist Alberta Slavin saw a need, she acted

Oct 28, 2008

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: October 28, 2008 - Alberta Slavin, a civic activist who wore many hats as a consumer advocate, journalist, politician and supporter of the arts, died Monday Oct. 27 at St. Louis University Hospital. Ms. Slavin, 78, of Clayton, had been battling a neurological disorder for many months.

Ms. Slavin is probably best known for her consumer advocacy, a mission she took on in the mid-1960s. Her husband, Dr. Raymond Slavin recalled that their housekeeper ignited that spark when she told of the high prices she paid for staples at an inner-city grocery. Ms. Slavin decided that consumers ought to comparison shop and along with a number of other housewives visited a variety of stores to see what they charged for the same market basket of goods. Dr. Slavin recalled that newspapers would not publish the information that his wife developed, so she printed her own newsletter. From that grew an organization -- HELP, or Housewives Elect Lower Prices.

Ms. Slavin also took on the utilities after the same housekeeper told her she hadn't realized that by having a Princess phone that she would pay a higher rate.

Ms. Slavin's work drew national attention and the notice of politician Joe Teasdale, who would run for Missouri governor in 1976. After Teasdale upset the Republican incumbent Christopher S. (Kit) Bond, he appointed Ms. Slavin to the Missouri Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities. Ms. Slavin became chairman of the commission in 1979, but lost her position when Bond retook the governor's office a year later.

Consumerism was just one of Ms. Slavin's wide-ranging interests, Dr. Slavin pointed out. The couple moved to St. Louis in 1965 and Ms. Slavin immediately dived into civic affairs. "What always struck me about Alberta was that when she recognized a need, she acted," Dr. Slavin said.

"We were in St. Louis just two months, when she got involved in the Save Our Symphony effort." That fund drive led to the grand renovation of Powell Hall, the home of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. Ms. Slavin played violin with the St. Louis Philharmonic and the St. Louis String Ensemble.

Vivian Eveloff, a long-time friend and director of the Sue Shear Institute for Women in Public Life at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, has fond memories of Ms. Slavin as a political activist. Eveloff recalled how the two were among a phalanx of young activists that decided "we needed to change the Democratic Party." She remembers that when they were rebuffed by a Democratic township chairwoman, they formed their own organization, the Clayton Township Democratic Club. The other organization has since disappeared but the Clayton Club exists to this day and, at her death, Ms. Slavin was its president.

Eveloff said Ms. Slavin was a teacher by example, both for her resiliency and creativity, for other women who got into progressive politics. She lost a primary race for lieutenant governor in 1976 but found other ways to push her causes. "She was always ahead of the curve," Eveloff said. "She understood issues on a basic level and always knew how to connect with people."

Dr. Slavin said Ms. Slavin took great pride in her work as the "On Your Side" reporter for seven years in the 1980s at KMOV-TV. There she did multi-part series on a variety of consumer issues.

Ms. Slavin did not always find herself in pitched battles with companies. At one point she took a paid position with AT&T as a consultant on a consumer advisory panel. "I fought them. I regulated them. I advised them," she once said.

But in recent years, she again saw trends tilting against consumers. That led her to form the Consumers Council of Missouri in 2006, which among other efforts has taken on AmerenUE before the Public Service Commission.

In addition to her husband, surviving are a daughter, Linda Slavin of St. Louis; three sons, Philip Slavin and Stuart Slavin of St. Louis and David Slavin of New York; and six grandchildren.

Burial will be private. A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m., Nov. 9, at Central Reform Congregation, 5020 Waterman Blvd.

The family requests contributions to Pathways to Independence, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center or Central Reform Congregation.