He was a self-made man from an impoverished home who quit school at 14, earned his high school diploma at 27, worked his way through college, established a medical practice in Annapolis and blazed a distinguished trail of political and civil-rights "firsts." Aris T. Allen led by example, serving as a worthy role model for several generations of blacks in this state.
Dr. Allen grew up in a segregated America, quietly fighting civil rights battles while establishing a medical practice with his wife in Maryland's capital city, where they tended to the needs of that city's poor black community for decades.
His interest in better schooling for his two sons led to his appointment as the first black member of the Anne Arundel County Board of Education -- and to his interest in a public career. He became a popular fixture in that city's political life, serving 11 years in the General Assembly as a Republican delegate and senator. When he died last Friday night at the age of 80, Dr. Allen had re-started his legislative career with a strong victory in the November elections, striking a blow for "gray power" as the General Assembly's oldest member.
His brand of quiet leadership made him one of the legislature's most respected members. He was an early advocate of abortion rights for women and for broader civil rights legislation. Dr. Allen also became the General Assembly's unofficial physician, once converting a die-hard segregationist into a lifelong friend by saving the delegate's life after he collapsed with a heart attack on the House floor. His generosity and dignity were legendary in the State House.
Republicans honored Dr. Allen often, naming him state party chairman, House minority whip, GOP candidate for lieutenant governor in 1968 and secretary of the Republican National Convention in 1980. He served in the Reagan administration as a medical affairs adviser.
Aris Allen's thoughtful brand of moderate, caring Republicanism will be sorely missed. He was a pathfinder, a groundbreaker and a compassionate friend to his many patients, constituents and colleagues. Annapolis' loss is Maryland's loss. We mourn his passing.