Aris Allen, GOP delegate from Arundel, found dead

February 09, 1991|By David Michael Ettlin Contributing to this article were Peter Jensen, C. Fraser Smith and M. Dion Thompson of the Annapolis Bureau of The Sun, Susan Schoenberger of the metropolitan staff, and Paul Shread, Samuel Goldreich and Arthur Hirsch of the Anne Arundel County Sun, a suburban edition of The Sun.

Delegate Aris T. Allen, who broke racial barriers during careers in medicine and politics and was Maryland's first black candidate nominated for statewide office, was found dead yesterday from an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The body of Dr. Allen, 80, the General Assembly's lone black Republican and its oldest member, was found in a rental car on the parking lot of an Annapolis church in the 700 block of Bestgate Road shortly before 5 p.m.

An Anne Arundel County police spokesman said Dr. Allen apparently killed himself with a shotgun, and that two suicide notes were found in the car. Dr. Allen recently had been diagnosed as having cancer, according to police.

Fran Counihan, a spokeswoman for Anne Arundel General Medical Center in Annapolis, said Dr. Allen was admitted as a patient Tuesday and released Wednesday.

A retired physician who served 11 years in the legislature between 1967 and 1981, Dr. Allen won election again last year to the House of Delegates in Anne Arundel County's 30th District. He was sworn in just four weeks ago on the opening day of the 1991 session.

Dr. Allen's death shocked fellow legislators and political leaders throughout Maryland. They were quick to express their grief and loss.

"Rarely are we blessed with a man of his caliber -- a gentleman, a doctor, a man of the people," said Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

"He was a pioneer, an icebreaker and a pathfinder," said Carl O. Snowden, a civil rights activist and Annapolis alderman. "He broke numerous racial barriers in our state. Some people write history and some people make history. Dr. Allen made history."

Dr. Allen recently published a biographical account of his rise from uneducated laborer to medical doctor and legislator, titled "Achieving the American Dream."

Aris T. Allen was born in Texas, the product of a broken home, and quit school at the age of 14 when schoolmates laughed at his big, hand-me-down shoes. During the Depression, he hitchhiked to Washington, worked in such jobs as elevator operator and security guard, and earned his high school diploma at age 27.

He worked his way through Howard University and its medical school, taking part of his training in the Army. When World War II ended, he chose Annapolis as the place to hang his shingle as one of the city's three black doctors.

In the attic of his home on Carroll Street, Dr. Allen installed equipment he had bought for $75 from the widow of a Washington physician -- and an operating table he had built himself.

Dr. Allen practiced in Annapolis with his wife, Dr. Faye Allen, until 1982. For a time, he was chief of staff at Anne Arundel General.

When the couple's two sons entered public school, Dr. Allen became involved in politics. He joined the local PTA, soon became its president and was appointed to the county school board by the late Republican Gov. Theodore R. McKeldin, serving six years.

In 1966, friends encouraged Dr. Allen to run for the House of Delegates. He won two terms, serving until he was defeated in 1974 by Democrat Donald L. Rosenshine.

In 1977, he was unanimously elected as the first black chairman of the state Republican Party -- and for that matter, of any state's Republican Party -- and he helped persuade former U.S. Sen. J. Glenn Beall Jr. to be the party standard-bearer in the 1978 gubernatorial election.

Mr. Beall, in turn, made Dr. Allen his running mate as lieutenant governor in the election, which was won by the Democratic ticket of Harry R. Hughes and Samuel Bogley.

Dr. Allen returned to the legislature from 1978 to 1981, appointed by then-acting Gov. Blair Lee III to fill a seat made vacant by the death of veteran Republican Sen. Edward T. Hall.

In 1980, Dr. Allen was in the national political spotlight as secretary to the Republican National Convention -- responsible among other things for calling the roll of states as the GOP nominated Ronald Reagan for the presidency.

The Reagan administration, in turn, called on Dr. Allen to become a medical affairs adviser to the Health Care Financing Administration in 1981 -- and he resigned from the state Senate.

In returning to politics last fall and winning back his old seat in the House of Delegates, Dr. Allen observed, "Elderly people have acquired an awful lot of experience."

"I could be out on my porch reading, but I wouldn't be happy doing that," said Dr. Allen. "First of all, I enjoy [politics]. I like being involved. I like seeing things happen. I like to think I've been an influence."

"He may be gone, but he will never truly leave," said Maryland Republican Party Chairwoman Joyce L. Terhes. "He was a black Republican when it was difficult to be a black Republican. I think he was a role model for many, many people in Maryland."

Ms. Terhes said the Anne Arundel Republican Central Committee has 30 days to nominate a replacement for Dr. Allen in the House of Delegates, and the nomination will then be submitted to the governor.

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