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John Abram, 82; Head of Southern California Gas


John C. Abram, chairman and chief executive officer of Southern California Gas Co. during the turbulent early 1980s, when prices for natural gas were rising and supplies were declining, has died. He was 82.

Abram, a staunch opponent of industry deregulation proposed by the Reagan administration, died Sept. 4 at his home in Glendale of undisclosed causes.

Abram worked for Southern California Gas from 1951 to 1985, except for the decade of the 1960s, when he was an executive with Pacific Lighting Service Co. He held the top posts at Southern California Gas from 1981 until his retirement.

During those difficult years for the industry, he traveled frequently to Washington to testify before Congress and to Sacramento to address the Public Utilities Commission on deregulation legislation, rising prices and declining supplies.

Ending price controls on natural gas by 1986 as proposed by President Reagan would be pure disaster, Abram told the U.S. Senate Energy Committee and the utilities commission in 1983. He said such deregulation would cost his 12 million Southern California residential customers billions of dollars after their gas bills had already doubled in the past four years.

"There is no way to create a free market in natural gas analogous to the free market that exists in oil," he told the U.S. Senate committee.

At home in Los Angeles, Abram became more innovative by creating what he called Operation Cope to enlist customers' help in battling rising prices.

Encouraging his employees to deliver greatly increased customer service, he established and publicized cost-saving programs that are still in use.

Among these are offering rebates for home weatherization, providing free energy audits of homes, adjusting appliances to save energy, and repeating safety and conservation tips. He also promoted low-interest financing and partial payment plans for those having trouble paying the rising bills.

Before joining the utility, Abram worked for Lockheed Aircraft Corp., George F. Hartman Engineering Co. and Aladin Heating Corp. After his retirement from Southern California Gas in 1985, he became chief executive officer of AEA International Ltd.

Abram served on the boards of the Pacific Coast Gas Assn., the American Gas Assn. and the Gas Research Institute.

He also served as vice chairman of the Economic Development Corp. of Los Angeles County and of the California Museum of Science and Industry Foundation.

In his charitable pursuits, he raised money and volunteered with such groups as Junior Achievement, the Red Cross and the American Cancer Society.

Born in Des Moines in 1920, Abram served in the Army Air Forces during World War II. He received a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from UCLA in 1949 and did postgraduate work at UC Berkeley.

Abram is survived by his wife, the former Dorothy Buettner, whom he married in 1946, and their two children, James of Placerville and Susan of Ventura.

Memorial donations may be made to the Parkinson's Disease Foundation, 1501 NW 9th Ave., Bob Hope Road, Miami, FL 33136-1494.

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