Several reminders of the history Lyda Krewson made last spring hang on the walls of her second-floor office overlooking Market Street at City Hall in downtown St. Louis.
Among them are the invitation and program from inaugural ceremonies on April 18 and a framed page from the April 13 edition of the St. Louis Metro Sentinel topped with the headline: “A message from the city’s first female mayor.”
That message was a simple thank-you to the citizens of St. Louis, who voted her into office with more than 67 percent support after she emerged from a tightly contested Democratic primary the previous month.
The significance of breaking through the gender barrier is not lost on Krewson after 45 men held the job before her.
“I think it’s great,” Krewson says one morning in early September after sipping from the cup of coffee in front of her on the round marble table inside her office. “You model what you see, so it sort of demonstrates to little girls and young women everywhere these opportunities are open to them too.”
But she’s quick to add: “I think this day and age most people know that – as opposed to 40 years ago when I started out in my working career.”
Indeed, opportunities for women seemed harder to come by when Krewson was trying to break into the accounting field in 1977.
She remains grateful to the University of Missouri–St. Louis for the bachelor’s degree that helped her do so and prepared her for her career.
Krewson – the second St. Louis mayor to graduate from UMSL after Vince Schoemehl, who served three terms from 1981 to 1993 – had already earned one bachelor’s degree in psychology and special education at Northeast Missouri State when she enrolled in UMSL’s accounting program. She took classes at night while working during the day at St. Vincent’s Psychiatric Hospital.
“I had good enough grades to get a really good job,” Krewson says of landing a position at the firm Touche Ross & Co. – now Deloitte – not long after her December 1976 graduation. “I will say that UMSL has been integral to my success. It was a serious education that enabled me to really launch my career in accounting, and I sincerely appreciate that opportunity.”
Krewson worked at Touche Ross until 1984, when she moved to PGAV Destinations. In 33 years there, she moved up the ranks to become vice president of finance.
She tried to get involved in her Central West End neighborhood and ran unsuccessfully for school board in 1989, but she hardly seemed on a path that would lead to the mayor’s office.
That changed in 1997, when – two years after watching her husband, architect Jeffrey Krewson, shot and killed in an attempted car-jacking – she decided to run for the 28th Ward seat on the Board of Aldermen.“I wanted to make my neighborhood better,” Krewson says, by way of explaining her decision to enter city politics. “It wasn’t too much more complicated than that.”
Krewson has tried to do that over the past two decades, working on behalf of the Central West End and the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhoods, helping bring the city together with Forest Park Forever in a public-private partnership to secure funding and maintenance for the park and leading the successful push for a citywide smoking ban.
She didn’t envision someday making a run at the mayor’s office until five or six years ago, and even then, she knew she wouldn’t launch a campaign while longtime Mayor Francis Slay – a Krewson ally – was still around.
But when Slay announced in the spring of 2016 that he would not seek a fifth term, Krewson decided to go for it. She was motivated by the same desire to improve neighborhoods that propelled her run for alderman 20 years ago.
The city’s challenges are well known. Krewson in particular would like to work to improve public safety, address the high rate of vacancy prevalent in some parts of the city, improve service delivery to all residents and help bridge the racial gap while trying to lead the city toward racial equality.
She’s also a believer that the city and county need to come together in some fashion to be able to better address big issues and push the region forward.
“I didn’t look at the job as daunting. I don’t look at it as daunting today,” Krewson says. “I think about a lot of the good things that are happening in the city today – NGA, Cortex, our medical centers, our financial institutions, our cultural institutions, which are really second-to-none, and they’re free. The quality of life we have here. You look at what’s happening in many of our neighborhoods – Cherokee Street, South Grand, Old North, Hyde Park, The Loop, The Grove. I hope to build off of those to expand that success across St. Louis.”