By Sally Greenberg, Chief Executive Officer
The National Consumers League mourns the passing of consumer icon and President of Consumer Reports Rhoda Karpatkin.
Rhoda, who died last week, served as President of Consumer Reports (CR) and Consumers Union (CU)—having served for 26 years from 1974 to 2000.
I had the honor of working under Rhoda when I was hired in 1998 as Senior Product Safety Counsel in CU’s Washington office. I would use two nouns to describe Rhoda – fierceness and integrity. Rhoda maintained an unbending commitment to CR’s absolute independence from any outside influence or outside money, and that included corporations, individuals, labor unions, politicians, or media.
A visionary, Rhoda held to an unwavering moral compass. We all looked to her for ideas and guidance. She oversaw the work of Consumer Reports magazine in tumultuous times.
When I was hired, CR was being sued by two automakers whose cars did not pass CU’s rigorous safety testing. Consumer Reports won the lawsuit and neither auto company sells cars today.
Rhoda believed in a global consumer movement. She served two terms as president of Consumers International, a membership organization for consumer activist groups. She also helped to launch the Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue, which continues to this day. This past summer I represented NCL at the TACD meeting in Brussels. An inspiring organization, TACD brings together consumer groups from the U.S. and Europe to share strategies and collective initiatives.
In the name of Esther Peterson, the beloved and powerful consumer advisor to three presidents, Rhoda created a fellowship at CU’s Washington office. Gene Kimmelman, the director of the DC office, and I worked closely with Rhoda to bring candidates in for interviews and Rhoda loved the process and enjoyed coming to Washington from her Yonkers headquarters to participate in the interviews. She often asked candidates, “What are you reading?”—a question I have incorporated into my interviewing repertoire.
A central figure in the consumer movement of the 1970s, Rhoda nearly doubled the circulation of Consumer Reports to 4.2 million. By the time she left, its website was one of the largest paid subscription sites on the internet, with approximately 475,000 subscribers, according to the magazine. Rhoda grew the magazine’s operating budget and oversaw the redesign of the auto-test track and new research laboratories. She also supported the work of Dr. R. David Pittle, CU’s technical director, as we worked with Congress when product safety hazards made the headlines. Together we all tried to ensure that pro-consumer leaders had a place at federal safety agencies like the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The consumer movement has had many great leaders, but Rhoda Karpatkin stands out for her kindness, integrity, and vision. I know I share the views of many of my colleagues who are deeply saddened to lose Rhoda. Her indelible influence lives on in all of us lucky enough to have worked with her.
Thank you, Rhoda. We will miss you.