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Letters From The Editor: Goodbye, my friend and mentor, Larry Allison

A few months ago, I had lunch with my old mentor, Larry Allison, in downtown Laguna Beach.

We ate Italian sandwiches at Anastasia Café and caught up on our days together at the Long Beach Press-Telegram, where Larry spent most of his 54-year career and I spent nearly a decade of mine, part of it reporting to and learning from him. As usual, Larry gave me some solicited advice on something he knew well — running newspapers — but mostly we just talked about something he knew even more about: living life.

Then he took me for a ride in his rare 12-cylinder Mercedes, which tracked that winding canyon road like it was a racetrack. I held on tight, but Larry, as always, was in cool command of a fast European car. He took me back to the village, gave me a big hug and drove away.

I never saw Larry again. His life was cut short by pneumonia Sunday night.

Though he was 77, I say cut short because with his Robert Redford looks, trim build and enthusiastic approach to life (and driving), he seemed 20 years younger. It's unfathomable that someone who was so alive is now gone.

Much has been written about Larry's career in the Long Beach media, but I wanted to pay tribute to him in the Coastline Pilot because he spent his later years living in Laguna and commuting to Long Beach, where he remained the Press-Telegram's editorial page editor. I know he has family here, and I am sure that he made an impression on his neighbors.

Larry was like that — a friend the moment you met him. Like most good journalists, he was curious, and he did a great job of asking questions that required you to think deeply about the answers. And he was the best listener I've ever met. He displayed little ego in conversation, waiting patiently while you spoke and not sitting on his hands to get a word in.

He had a quiet confidence and no need for praise and attention. Though he had many career successes, including cases of newspaper-industry awards, he almost never called attention to them. He wasn't in the business for the recognition that sometimes comes with it. He did it for the right reasons: to hold government accountable and tell good stories along the way.

But he also lived outside of the cloistered world of newspapers. He spoke fondly sometimes of a small group of men, corporate executives mainly, whom he met with on occasion and about the great friendships he forged with them.

He would say, "It's a big world out there," and encouraged newspaper types like me to get out and meet people who were not inked-stained wretches. He counseled me to go to grad school and adjusted my schedule so I could finish.

He thought there was much to learn from people who didn't report the news for a living, and he was right — what I've learned from people outside of the newspaper business now greatly influences what I do in it.

This sounds cliché, but Larry loved the life he and his wonderful wife, Patricia, made in Laguna Beach. They owned a home in town and also a condominium on the beach, where they spent most of their time. Laguna is a world away from urban Long Beach, and I am glad Larry spent his later years taking in his adopted home's beauty and cultural offerings.

He told me of walks along the cliffs, the scenic beauty and the interesting people he called friends. It's about as close to retirement as he would get.

Open as he was about his opinions, Larry was private and dignified when it came to his family, but when he did bring up his wife of 57 years, son and siblings, it was with the greatest affection. He talked of holiday parties in Northern California and of relatives with interesting careers in the news business, as well as in the real world.

He chatted about times he and Patricia visited Paris, where they would rent small apartments for their stays, or his memories of going to jazz festivals in the 1960s. I remember how happy he was that his son, Larry Jr., moved from Newport Beach to Laguna Beach.

Boy, could he write. Not this 140-character Twitter stuff we're adapting to now, but thoughtful, concise and fairly written essays about the issues of the day that sometimes consumed a few columns of newsprint yet kept you engaged the whole time.

Loyal Larry worked for the Press-Telegram for 54 years, leaving only for short stretches when the company that used to own the newspaper gave him assignments in Detroit and other parts of the country. Still, his newsman's heart was in Long Beach.

He held multiple jobs at what locals call the P-T, including executive editor, city editor and editorial page editor. I worked for him as assistant editor of the editorial page and he introduced me to the challenges of writing thoughtful, pointed opinion pieces — an assignment I somewhat feared after years in straight news.

Larry took great pride in serving as "the voice of the newspaper" and held us to standards of fairness and accuracy rarely seen in the hit-them-over-the-head rants that pass for the opinion writing of this era. He would not tolerate cheap shots or shoddy thinking. And he wanted editorials to propose solutions to problems.

He said it was easy to call attention to what's wrong, but much harder to find a way to fix it. For those reasons and more, everyone in town respected him, even those who disagreed with his editorials, which were known to turn a council vote or two.

Even if you never got to meet Larry, I am sure you would have liked him.

Gentleman is the word used most often to describe him. He was dignified, engaging, mild-mannered and charming — but in the sincerest sense of that last adjective.

He was never phony. He was authentic. Much like Laguna. I am glad he spent his days here. He deserved a place like this.

In addition to his wife and son, the Press-Telegram lists Larry's survivors as brothers Lew Allison, Brian Allison, Mike Allison and Jack Allison, and sister Helene Arrieta.

If you happened to know Larry, or one of his relatives, consider attending his memorial service at 3:30 p.m. Nov. 17 at the Long Beach Convention Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd.

JOHN CANALIS is editor of the Coastline Pilot, the Daily Pilot and Huntington Beach Independent. He can be reached at (714) 966-4607 and john.canalis@latimes.com.

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