Allen's Quiet Leadership Resounded Through County

February 10, 1991|By Staff report Staff writers Elise Armacost, JoAnna Daemmrich, Samuel Goldreich, John Harris III, Arthur Hirsch, Lorraine Mirabella, John A. Morris and Paul Shread contributed to this story.

Jean Creek, head of the county NAACP, saw firsthand the quiet leadership of Aris T. Allen.

During an NAACP banquet in the 1970s, Allenwrote out a check for $1,000 to become a Golden Heritage member of the association. Told by Creek that his wife, Faye, had paid $100 toward her own Golden Heritage membership, Allen provided a textbook example of what leadership by example is all about.

"While he was standing there he wrote out a $900 check for her tofinish her Golden Heritage membership," Creek recalled Friday night."People were so impressed with his commitment to the organization that life memberships jumped from eight to 300 within a 5-year period."

Creek said there was "no telling" how much money Allen contributed to NAACP during his lifetime.

Former state Election Administrator Willard Morris, 79, remembered Aris Allen as something more than apositive influence. He remembered the physician as a lifesaver.

Morris collapsed in the Senate gallery one day in the late 1970s. He woke up to find Senator Allen leaning over him.

From that day, Morris became one of Allen's regular patients.


The greatest tributes to Delegate Aris Allen, who took his own life Friday night, came from the people whose lives he touched as a doctor, educator, politician and quiet leader in the civil rights struggle.

"He had a distinctive career in government and politics and education and medicine," former County Executive O. James Lighthizer said. "He was a man of suchquiet dignity that you instinctively called him 'Doctor' and not 'Aris,' simply because of the power of his personality and the way he carried himself. He was a real pioneer, one of the leading citizens of a generation in our county."

Upon learning of Allen's death, Housecolleague Michael Busch, D-Annapolis, said, "It's a shame, because he epitomized the strong, virile, vibrant person even into his 80s. The guy has just an amazing legacy of accomplishments."

Those accomplishments were legion. In 1955, Allen became the first black citizen appointed to the county Board of Education, serving until 1961. Five years later, he was elected to the first of two terms as a state delegate representing Annapolis. In 1978, he became the second black candidate ever for statewide political office, running as lieutenant governor on a ticket headed by Republican J. Glenn Beall Jr. Later that year, he was named to the state Senate, filling the term of the late Ed Hall.

In 1982, Allen took a respite from elected office, accepting an appointment from President Ronald Reagan as medical affairs adviser to the Health Care Financing Administration.

But those who knew him could have predicted Aris Allen wouldn't remain still for long. Following several stalled campaigns, including one for governor in1986, he announced last year that he would campaign to regain the House seat he had vacated a dozen years earlier.

Running a campaign that belied his age, Allen was elected handily, finishing second to incumbent John Astle.

Allen was "ecstatic" after the November election, said Deputy School Superintendent C. Berry Carter, whose relationship with the Texas native went back almost 30 years. "He was very happy the people hadn't forgotten him."

At Allen's Arundel-on-the Bay home Friday night, more than a dozen friends and community leadersgathered to comfort his wife, his family and each other. They sat ina circle in the living room, reaching out occasionally to touch eachother's hands or wipe away tears.

"We are forming a little circleas we do," said Mary Sellman Jackson, who stood outside the 7-Elevenon Bay Ridge Avenue calling friends from a pay phone.

Jackson, the only black member of the Republican Central Committee, praised Allen as the man who encouraged her to become politically active.

"This is more than a shock," she said. "I just can't understand it. He was such a vibrant person."

Friends from Mount Moriah AME Church in Annapolis, where Allen was a member and sang in the men's choir, lastsaw the delegate at Sunday's service. He laughed and joked with them, appearing as upbeat as usual. Never did Allen appear upset or distraught, friends said.

"He was a self-made man, always a gentleman and a scholar," said church member N. Jerome Edwards, who had known the delegate since the 1950s. "He was someone we could look up to."

"I can say that I feel privileged to have known him and to have been inspired by him," said Clifton Johnson, 41, a church member and neighbor of Allen. "He left you feeling that you, as a black individual, could succeed to any height you wanted to. He let you know hope was still there."

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