New Kid, Old School

Francis G. Slay wants to push a troubled city to the future, and he doesn't think "politics" is a dirty word.

There are some stark differences between father and son. There's no denying that the 45-year-old son, a graduate of Quincy College and the St. Louis University School of Law and a downtown lawyer dealing with commercial litigation, product liability and class-action suits for 20 years, is, at the very least, a modern, educated version of his father. The elder Slay, after all, was booted out of high school during his first year for fighting. "I came up the streets the hard way," he explains.

The contrast between generations isn't all that uncommon, says Thomas Guilfoil, head of the law firm where the younger Slay has worked since 1980. Guilfoil is a former head of the state Democratic Party and has long been known as a major political fundraiser. "How are all the young Kennedys different from the old Kennedys? How are the young Bushes different from the old Bushes? The young Gore from the old Gore? There's not much unusual in that," Guilfoil says. "It appears to be an American pattern."

Politics may have been in his blood, but soccer was what first possessed young Francis G. Slay. He tried to keep up with his older brother, Gerard, in soccer, and those efforts were recognized early. "I was good in grade school," he says. "In third grade, I took all the penalty kicks, because I never missed."

In front of the downtown Famous-Barr, Francis G. Slay, third from right, gets an early taste of politics during one of his father's campaigns for the office of recorder of deeds in the 1960s. Francis R. Slay, second from right, gets a pat on the cheek from a potential voter.
Jennifer Silverberg
In front of the downtown Famous-Barr, Francis G. Slay, third from right, gets an early taste of politics during one of his father's campaigns for the office of recorder of deeds in the 1960s. Francis R. Slay, second from right, gets a pat on the cheek from a potential voter.
Francis R. and Anna Slay with their son Francis at his campaign headquarters on Lindell Boulevard.
Jennifer Silverberg
Francis R. and Anna Slay with their son Francis at his campaign headquarters on Lindell Boulevard.

After playing at St. Mary's High School, Slay went on to Quincy College, where, in the four years Slay played there, Quincy compiled a record of 69 wins, 11 losses and four ties. Quincy also won three NAIA championships, in 1973, '74 and '75. In the 19-1-1 year of 1975, Slay scored five goals and had eight assists. Coach Jack McKenzie remembers Slay as a "very dependable" player who scored "key goals" and earned a soccer scholarship as a "walk-on," someone who tries out for the team without the guarantee of a scholarship.

"I really feel good about those kinds of kids -- he earned a scholarship after walking on, and those are the kinds of kids that take a gamble; they stick their necks out, and it pays off," says McKenzie. "Fran was a team player, and he did a lot to help ensure harmony within the team."

Back in that day, before the rest of the nation discovered soccer, St. Louis was known as a soccer town. St. Louis University, relying almost exclusively on local talent, won 10 NCAA soccer championships from 1959-1973. For Slay, who started playing on grade-school teams in the Epiphany Parish, to play on three national collegiate soccer teams at Quincy was a dream come true.

Slay is so St. Louis that he even met his wife at a soccer game. "I was playing against her brother. He was defending me and I blew past him a few times," Slay recalls. "She was impressed." At the time he was playing for Southern Equipment Co., which won the Under 19 national championship twice. He was one year out of high school. His future wife, Kim Torrisi, was a junior at St. Elizabeth's Academy.

After they met, Slay asked her out -- to a soccer game. They went to a professional game, when the St. Louis Stars played at Busch Stadium. Slay himself wanted to play professional soccer. "But when I saw what other professional soccer players from the U.S. were doing, they weren't doing very well," Slay says. "There was no future in it."

Restaurant work was not attractive to Slay, either, in part because he grew up working there and in part because, with 10 brothers and sisters, there were plenty of other hands to help out. Maybe the first clue to his future was his major at Quincy -- political science. After that, it was law school at SLU, where he was one year ahead of another law student from a St. Louis political family, Freeman Bosley Jr.

Slay says, somewhat unconvincingly, that after working for a few years as an appellate-court clerk, his choice to work at Guilfoil's law firm had nothing to do with politics; it was because the firm was "connected" in a business and corporate sense, not a political sense. Guilfoil remembers it a bit differently. "He had already demonstrated an interest in politics" when he came to his firm, he says. At the time, one of Guilfoil's partners was Stuart Symington Jr., son of former U.S. Sen. Stuart Symington.

Pursuing a judgeship was one option Slay explored but decided against. When he decided to run for alderman in 1985, Slay saw an opportunity to see whether he'd like politics. His interest was triggered, he admits, by his family roots. "It had to do with my father's involvement, my grandfather's involvement." Once on the Board of Aldermen, he found he liked working on neighborhood issues and the give-and-take of the legislative sausage factory. During his early years on the board, Slay says, Guilfoil offered advice when asked but did not push him. By 1995, Slay was confident enough of his political ability to wage a citywide campaign for president of the Board of Aldermen. It was a hard-fought campaign that drew seven candidates, but Slay won with nearly half of the vote. Four years later, Slay won re-election without facing any challengers. As aldermanic president, Slay serves on the three-member Board of Estimate and Apportionment, along with Harmon and Comptroller Darlene Green. The powerful board approves the city's budget.

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