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News Obituaries

Alan Mark Silbergeld, consumer advocate

Alan Mark Silbergeld, a retired Consumer Union attorney and consumer advocate who was an aficionado of vocal music, died Friday of complications from lymphoma at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The Homeland resident was 72.

"He was a leading consumer advocate on federal policy in Washington for the last 40 years," said Stephen Brobeck, Consumer Federation of America executive director and a friend. "He also loved Baltimore."

Born in Greenville, Ill., and raised in St. Louis, Mr. Silbergeld earned a government degree at Indiana University and a law degree from Washington University.

His affection for Baltimore began many years ago when he settled in Reservoir Hill. There, while living with extended family members, he received a residential permit for a gas-fired kiln for ceramic pottery. He later bought a home on Park Avenue in that neighborhood and later resided on Mount Vernon Place and in Roland Park.

Mr. Silbergeld worked in Washington, initially at the Federal Trade Commission. He then worked for consumer advocate Ralph Nader. Friends said he established friendships during his decades riding commuter trains and never tired of the daily travel.

According to a sketch of his life he prepared, Mr. Silbergeld worked in consumer credit, food safety, international trade and legal issues pertaining to nonprofit organizations. He testified before and lobbied Congress and regulatory agencies. He was often quoted in the national media on food safety and labeling issues.

In 1972, he joined the Consumer Union's Washington office. He was an attorney, office director and co-director and served until 2003, dealing with public policy and consumer issues.

"Mark's intelligence, knowledge and good sense were respected not only by his colleagues but by government and business leaders," said Mr. Brobeck, who lives in Washington.

In 1996, he received the Esther Peterson Award from the Consumer Federation of America, where he had been director of international issues. He was also honored twice for his advocacy by the Food and Drug Administration.

Mr. Silbergeld attended Baltimore Concert Opera and Baltimore Opera Company performances. He also spent time preparing weekend afternoons of recorded music for friends. He belonged to an informal club in which members created programs of singers they admired. He preferred coloratura sopranos.

"He was knowledgeable and discerning about singers," said Gerald Perman, founder of the Vocal Arts Society in Washington. "He loved great singing and was extremely warm, friendly and enthusiastic."

Elwood McKee, a friend from Rockville, recalled a program that Mr. Silbergeld created called "Tears in the Voice." He described his friend as being "a sensitive man with a keen and sensitive ear." He said that Mr. Silbergeld "had a gift for seeking out recordings by artists who tended to be forgotten today."

Mr. Silbergeld enjoyed world cuisines. His wife, Marylu Manning Silbergeld, said he fashioned his own recipes. She said he favored sausage-based dishes with an Eastern European influence. She said he often bought ingredients at Baltimore's Mueller's, Mastellone's and Ceriello's markets. His favorite restaurant was the now-closed Marconi's.

When attending Metropolitan Opera in New York, he dined at the Russian Tea Room.

"He was a great bon vivant. He loved food, music and wine, [and] also loved college basketball and major league baseball," said Davida Kovner, his former sister-in-law, who lives in Baltimore.

She recalled that he decided where to stay when on vacation in France by selecting a region of wine production. He then consulted the Michelin Guide and booked the area's recommended restaurants. He also kept diaries of these visits.

A life celebration will be held March 24.

In addition to his wife of a year, survivors include a son, Nicholas Silbergeld of New York City; a daughter, Sophia Silbergeld of Baltimore; a stepson, Brian Kennedy of Baltimore; three brothers, Arthur Silbergeld of Santa Monica, Calif., Dr. Jerome Silbergeld of Princeton, N.J., and Jack Siler of Paris; and two grandchildren. His earlier marriage to Dr. Ellen Kovner Silbergeld ended in divorce.

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