Rose Slater, ex-Bnai Brith president and longtime San Franciscan, dies at 96

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As a young woman, Rose Slater was a secretary at Cyril Magnin’s downtown San Francisco department store. But that wasn’t her only job.

Magnin would call Slater, a tall, vivacious beauty, into the boardroom every time a new shipment of clothes arrived, and she would model them. The bosses would decide what they liked and what they didn’t, meaning the destinies of San Francisco’s fashion-conscious females were, literally, resting on Slater’s shoulders.

Slater, a remarkably energetic and independent woman until near the end, died Aug. 22 in Santa Rosa at age 96.

She was born Rose Parkman in St. Louis and moved to San Francisco as a teenager. In 1932 prescient friends set her up on a blind date with Leo Slater, and the two were married in 1934.

The young couple moved into what was then San Francisco’s Jewish neighborhood in the Fillmore and worked fanatically to keep their heads above water during the Depression (at one point, Leo sold baby bonnets).

Leo later opened up a lunch stand, and Rose boiled vast amounts of eggs and whipped up tubs of potato salad every night for the next day’s lunch.

Both Rose and Leo were heavily involved in the local B’nai Brith, and Rose served many terms as president of the organization’s women’s group. She attended Conservative Congregation Beth Sholom for High Holy Day services until moving to Santa Rosa at age 93. In fact, her mother was on the hiring committee that brought in Rabbi Saul White at Beth Sholom.

Rose Slater was a volunteer at both Beth Sholom and her daughters’ San Francisco public schools. She also organized countless outings to Reno for her B’nai B’rith lodge. Rose increased her volunteer work after Leo died in 1975.

She thrived on company, and in her later years she would make small daily trips to the grocery shops rather than shopping expeditions because she enjoyed interacting with the checkers. She volunteered at San Francisco’s Kaiser Hospital for 15 years, well into her 90s, and loved chatting with the doctors when they bought candy bars on their break. She also volunteered at San Francisco’s Ulloa School into her 90s (daughter Marilyn Schulman still has the “Happy 90th Birthday Mrs. Slater!” cards).

Slater gave up driving at age 93 without ever receiving a ticket or getting into an accident. And it wasn’t as if she was a danger behind the wheel — the Department of Motor Vehicles insisted on renewing her license for five years. Slater figured she wouldn’t be around that long, so, she thought, why bother?

Schulman described her mother as outspoken and opinionated, but someone who made friends remarkably easily and quickly.

“People have been coming up to me and saying, ‘Your mother really told it how it was,'” said Schulman.

“When I went to the hospital [during Slater’s final days] that was the first time she gave me her checkbook. She had been doing all her own finances.”

As well as being quite independent, Slater was also remarkably organized. She wrote her own death notice years ago and, literally, would not die until Schulman assured her that all of her photographs and other treasures had been packed up and squared away. She even specified what dress she wanted to wear in the coffin.

Rose Slater is survived by her daughters Marilyn Schulman of Grass Valley and Carol Fisher of Sparta, N.J.; five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Donations in her memory may be sent to the hospice or charity of your choice. Funeral services have been held.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.