Francis R. Slay: Mayor's dad was behind-the-scenes power

2011-03-17T03:45:00Z 2012-06-26T12:57:12Z Francis R. Slay: Mayor's dad was behind-the-scenes powerBY MICHAEL D. SORKIN • > 314-340-8347

When their firstborn died shortly after birth, Francis and Anna Slay prayed to St. Gerard Majella, the patron saint of expectant mothers. They pledged to name any future children after the saint.

They went on to have 11 more children and, as promised, named the first Gerard. They didn't stop there: They gave the next 10, girls and boys, some form of the saint's name.

Their second child, Francis Gerard Slay, is the three-term mayor of St. Louis.

The father, Francis R. Slay, went on to become a popular restaurant owner and a power broker in city politics.

Mr. Slay died Wednesday (March 16, 2011) of congestive heart failure at St. Anthony's Medical Center in south St. Louis County, his family said.

He was 83 and lived on Scanlan Avenue in south St. Louis, in the home he and his wife bought in 1959.

Many considered him the dean of St. Louis Democrats. He served two terms as the city's recorder of deeds, was elected to the Missouri House and was the Democratic committeeman for the influential 23rd Ward for 45 years, until retiring three years ago.

Mr. Slay's influence was usually behind the scenes. A nod from him could help young politicians get elected.

"He's the person who made other people," said Sharon Carpenter, a friend who since 1980 has held Mr. Slay's old job as recorder of deeds.

In 1968, Mr. Slay decided that it was past time for African-Americans to hold citywide office in St. Louis. He got Gov. Warren Hearnes to name Benjamin L. "Benny" Goins Sr., a civil rights leader, to the vacant office of city license collector.

"You can't have half the city unrepresented," Carpenter recalled Mr. Slay telling the governor.

That was all done behind the scenes, Carpenter said, adding: "He had a core sense of fairness."

Mr. Slay's parents were Lebanese immigrants.

His father, Joseph R. Slay, was a Democratic city alderman from 1946 to 1950.

Mr. Slay dropped out of Christian Brothers College high school during his first year to go into the family restaurant business with his father. He later served in the Army during and just after World War II.

The restaurant business proved to be a springboard to political success. At one time, the Slays owned three restaurants. The most famous was Slay's Restaurant on Hampton Avenue, near the Hill, owned by Mr. Slay and brothers Anthony and Mike.

The restaurant became a popular gathering place. Mr. Slay was at his best in a crowd of people. He said "hi" to everyone, whether they wore a tuxedo or an apron.

The future mayor honed his own people skills there, tending bar and working as maitre d' for about 10 years.

Francis G. Slay said his father's restaurant was one of the few places in St. Louis where blacks could get served during the early 1960s.

"He taught us to respect everybody," the mayor said.

His father began his political career in 1964 with an upset victory to become a Democratic committeeman. In 1966, he was elected state representative for the first of two terms.

He left Jefferson City in 1970 to spend more time with his growing family. That year, he was elected St. Louis recorder of deeds. After the death of a brother, he resigned in 1977 to tend to the family business.

By then, he was concentrating on running the banquet hall at St. Raymond's Maronite Cathedral just south of downtown.

Ladies of the church make the Lebanese food, which is served in cafeteria style. It's a favorite haunt for judges, lawyers, city officials and law enforcement officers.

Mr. Slay presided over all of them. He was at his best after Election Day, when he awoke early to be the first one at work.

When one of his candidates won, Mr. Slay did victory laps around the dining tables.

On Wednesday, friends gathered for lunch at St. Raymond's and to tell stories about Mr. Slay.

Lewis Reed, president of the Board of Aldermen, recalled how he had sought out Mr. Slay before running for 6th Ward alderman, and again before running for board president.

Mr. Slay told him: "Keep your shoes shined, and take your wife everywhere you go."

Theresa Miller, who worked at City Hall and then at St. Raymond's with Mr. Slay, recalled how he stopped to joke with each table and sometimes entertained the crowd with somersaults through the dining hall, until he was almost 80.

"He'd make sure that people were looking," Miller said. "He never did anything without an audience."

Visitation will be 3 to 8 p.m. Sunday at Kutis Funeral Home, 2906 Gravois Avenue. The funeral Mass will be at 10 a.m. Monday at St. Raymond's Maronite Cathedral, 931 Lebanon Drive. Burial will be at Resurrection Cemetery.

Among the survivors, in addition to his wife of 59 years and the mayor, are five daughters, Sharon Geralyn Slay of St. Louis, Brenda Geralyn Slay of Houston, Ann Geralyn Slay of Overland, Maria Gerarda Greenwell of Manchester and Monietta Gerarda Slay of St. Louis; five other sons, Gerard Majella Slay, Michael Majella Slay, Raymond Gerard Slay, all of St. Louis, Leo Gerard Slay of Mehlville and Thomas Gerard Slay of Webster Groves; a brother, Marianist Brother Leo Slay of Kirkwood; a sister, Margaret Grana of Crestwood; 17 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

David Hunn and Jake Wagman of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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