Alberta Slavin was praised for consumer advocacy work


Alberta Slavin, credited for founding the consumer movement in Missouri four decades ago, died Monday, Oct. 27, 2008, at St. Louis University Hospital after a lengthy illness.

She was 78 and a longtime Clayton resident.

An obituary in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch by Michael Sorkin notes that Mrs. Slavin founded the consumer movement in Missouri with a group of housewives angry over grocery prices. The result was Mrs. Slavin’s Housewives Elect Lower Prices (HELP), which attracted national media attention in 1967. HELP targeted supermarkets over high prices in inner city neighborhoods. She next formed the Utility Consumers Council of Missouri after the telephone company cut her service because she was not using a company-approved telephone.

Gov. Joe Teasdale appointed Mrs. Slavin in 1977 to the Missouri Public Service Commission, describing her as the first consumer advocate to head it.

For almost seven years in the 1980s, she was the “On Your Side” reporter on KMOV-TV, Channel 4. In 2001, Attorney General Jay Nixon named her to the board of directors of the new Missouri Medical Health Foundation and she became its president. Today, the foundation has more than $1 billion on hand to help Missourians improve their health, according to Sorkin’s story.

In 2006, Mrs. Slavin again became concerned at what she considered the lack of consumer influence to counter utilities and their supporters in Jefferson City.

Mrs. Slavin later founded the Consumers Council of Missouri, a statewide group that advocates for consumers. Today the group is fighting an effort by AmerenUE to reverse a state law preventing electric companies from charging customers for power plants before they become operational. Missouri voters approved the law in 1976, and Mrs. Slavin and her first consumers led the fight for passage.

She remained president of the reconstituted group until her death.

Mrs. Slavin was born in Mitchell, S.D. She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Michigan, where she met her future husband, Dr. Raymond G. Slavin. She taught public schools in Chicago, as well as the violin. When the family moved to St. Louis, she played with the St. Louis String Ensemble.

An editorial headed “Citizen Slavin” in the Oct. 29 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, praises Mrs. Slavin for her pioneering work in consumer advocacy, and for helping “ordinary people band together and effectively pressed their cause against those of powerful special interests.”

The editorial concludes, “Alberta Slavin believed that ordinary citizens could make a difference. True enough, but only when extraordinary citizens lead the fight. She was one of them.”

Mrs. Slavin was a frequent speaker at organizational meetings in both the general and Jewish communities. She was the keynote speaker at an opening meeting of the St. Louis Chapter of Hadassah. She was also a member of the St. Louis Section of the National Council of Jewish Women and Central Reform Congregation.

In September, 1973, at an event sponsored by the Congregation Shaare Emeth Sisterhood, Mrs. Slavin debated Walter J. Garner, district manager of Standard Oil Co. of Indiana on the topic: “The Energy Crisis: Real or False.”

Garner defended the position of the oil companies in the midst of the 1973 oil crisis and was critical of environmentalists. Mrs. Slavin said, “I have a feeling environmentalism is a dirty word among oil company executives.” She was widely admired for “speaking truth to power.”

Mrs. Slavin was a strong supporter of the St. Louis Jouralism Review among many causes.

Survivors include her husband, Dr. Raymond G. Slavin; a daughter, Linda Slavin of New York City and six grandchildren.

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

Contributions may be made to Pathways to Independence, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center or Central Reform Congregation.