YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Mabel C. Harris, 84; Taught Public How to Prepare Food, Menus

November 11, 2002|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

Mabel C. Harris, who made strides for women in the executive ranks of Vons Grocery Stores and other companies as a home economist, has died. She was 84.

Harris died Saturday in Glendale of heart failure, said her niece, Lanore Galvin of Los Angeles.

In 1960, Vons hired and publicized Harris as "the first graduate home economist to join a supermarket chain staff." Her duties were to "help the public with recipes, menus and buying information."

In an era before grocery stores were stocked with prepared and semi-prepared meals, Harris met with women's groups, spoke at schools and supermarket openings, provided tips and recipes on radio and television, and made other appearances to teach the public about food preparation. She pledged to "help women get more fun and less work out of good menus and meals."

A rarity among executive ranks four decades ago, Harris was the only woman pictured and listed in the Vons executive directory of 1964 and for several years afterward.

Even in retirement, she prodded the male-governed food chain to recognize the wisdom of having women help run supermarkets. At a stockholders' meeting in 1989, the retired Harris, a stockholder, rose to speak. After saying several kind things about her longtime employer, she chided the board:

"All of you directors are men. It seems to me you ought to have a woman director. And I'm available."

She was not added to the board.

In the several decades she was associated with Vons, Harris was never known by her name. She was introduced at events, listed in directories and identified in news media as Virginia O'Neal, whose initials, conveniently, spelled the monogram VON.

Harris grew up on a Montana cattle ranch learning home economics by doing it. She canned her way to college by preserving 4,000 quarts of vegetables. The feat earned her top prize in a national 4-H contest -- a four-year scholarship from the Kerr Glass Co., which made glass jars used by homemakers for preserving food.

After earning her home economics degree at Montana State University, Harris went to work for Kerr, driving to her lectures on food preservation in a company car with a rendering of a Kerr glass canning jar mounted on the trunk.

Harris moved on to Swift and Co., where, as a home economist called Martha Logan, she spoke to more than 25,000 homemakers a year.

In the 1950s, she moved to California to work for the California Dairy Council, still instructing consumers in handling food.

Well-regarded by her peers, Harris was twice elected president of the Home Economists in Business and was active in the American Home Economist Assn.

Harris judged food entries at the Los Angeles County Fair for more than 40 years. She was also a judge for the Pillsbury Bake-Off, a national contest.

Widowed by the death of her husband of 50 years, Basil G. Harris, she is survived by a stepson, Jerry Harris of Carmichael, Calif., and a sister, Nellie Barker of Helena, Mont.

Los Angeles Times Articles