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Remembering Hazel Erby, Who Built An ‘Electoral Behemoth’ In St. Louis County

Former St. Louis County Councilwoman Hazel Erby congratulates Rita Days, a former state lawmaker who will fill Erby's 1st District seat on the council. Aug. 6, 2019
File photo / Rachel Lippmann
St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis County Council member Rita Heard Days, left, talked about her friend and colleague Hazel Erby, right, on Wednesday's show.

Two years ago, when Rita Heard Days was elected to fill the St. Louis County Council 1st District seat vacated by Hazel Erby, she knew she had big shoes to fill.

She was eager to continue the work her predecessor and friend had a reputation for. And despite her significant experience in the state legislature, Days found herself turning to Erby for guidance as she learned to navigate county systems and culture.

So right now, carrying on Erby’s legacy — without her — feels especially heavy, Days told St. Louis on the Air. Erby died July 2 following a struggle with pancreatic cancer.

“I’m just going to do my very best to keep her legacy alive, to keep the passion she had for certain things,” Days said.

On Wednesday’s show, Days joined host Sarah Fenske in remembrance of her friend and colleague. She spoke of Erby as someone committed to always doing the right thing.

“It’s a tremendous loss to me and to the St. Louis community as a whole,” Days said.

Hazel Erby's Successor, Mentee Share Reflections On Her Life And Legacy
Listen as host Sarah Fenske talks with St. Louis County Council Chairwoman Rita Heard Days.

She and Erby met more than 20 years ago.

“Both of us started our political careers later in life — after children, after having our families kind of solidified — and that’s when we were both kind of thrust into this business [of politics]. … I think both of us came into this sort of [by] accident, if you will,” Days recalled.

And for Erby, her friend said, it wasn’t personal ambition that drove her so much as having things she wanted to accomplish — “particularly for younger people.”

“As she aged, she said, ‘You know, we need to get younger people involved [in] the committee work and younger people involved in running for office,” Days said.

The conversation included reflections by 18-year-old St. Louis County resident Marquis Govan, who considered Erby a mentor. Govan spoke of her courage in sometimes being “a lone voice” on tough topics like corruption, as well as her knack for collaboration.

“Anybody knows how many mayors and city council and alderpeople there are in all these tiny St. Louis municipalities in north St. Louis County,” Govan said. “She brought all of these people together, all of these Black and Democratic officials, to be an electoral behemoth, in a way.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Paola Rodriguez is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Evie was a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.