Former mayor leaves legacy of knowledge, service
By Kathi Bliss
John McLaurin Allred decided he was going to do something, and he did it. In 76 years, he wore many hats: an opera singer and actor, a physicist, a mayor, a judge, a lifelong learner and – most important to him – a husband, father and new grandfather. Every task he set about in his life, he did with quiet determination, confident that whatever he did, he would do his best.
On Aug. 19, 2010, Allred lost a lengthy and hard-fought battle with failing health, and died in his sleep at his home. He passed much as he had lived, without drama or fanfare, and on his terms.
“It was our anniversary on Tuesday, and my birthday on Wednesday,” his wife, Patricia “Pat” Allred, said on Monday afternoon. “In those two days before he passed, I think that he talked to everyone he knew. He answered phone calls and chatted with friends while I cleaned up the house and watered the plants. He said that he was feeling rotten, but that he was going to beat it and get better.”
So intent he was on getting better, Mrs. Allred said, that he told one friend he fully intended to get well and move to Rome, where he meant to live and write a book on Italian history.
She said her husband, a longtime sufferer of congestive heart failure, spent his evening at home while she attended an investment club meeting, went to bed after the Astros won, and peacefully passed on to his Final Reward sometime during the night.
A true “Son of the South,” Allred was born in Hattiesburg, Miss., on Jan. 27, 1934, and lived a life full of success, leadership and love.
“I’ve gotten so many cards and calls, and the most common descriptions are ‘kind and gentle,’” Mrs. Allred said. “I think that was his Southern upbringing. But he also had a greater zest for life than anyone we’ve ever known.”
After graduating from the University of Mississippi, Allred enlisted in the United States Navy, where he was a pilot, eventually rising through the ranks to eventually become a carrier pilot and an instructor at Pensacola.
“Most of the time, he was quiet and just listened when others had conversations,” longtime friend Todd Blomerth, who served as city attorney during Allred’s term as the Mayor of the City of Lockhart from 1993-1996. “One day, I asked him what it felt like to land a plane on a carrier, at however-many hundreds of miles an hour.”
Blomerth, along with former mayor M. Louis Cisneros, who turned over the city’s helm to Allred in 1993, and Mayor Ray Sanders, who succeeded him in 1996, laughed to recall Allred’s storied response, “Well, landing on a carrier is the reason adult diapers were invented.”
Allred’s humor, and his love for talking about his Navy days, are things that will stick in the minds of his friends forever.
“He always got a twinkle in his eye when he talked about it,” Cisneros said on Friday. “And if you got him talking about being a pilot, about flying planes, he could just talk and talk for hours.”
Upon finishing his career in the Navy, Allred returned to Ole’ Miss to seek a graduate degree in physics and mathematics, and later earned an MBA from the University of Houston at Clear Lake.
A scientist to the core, Allred took his education to work, becoming a physicist and working on government projects for NASA and Lockheed.
“When we were in Houston, we lived in the neighborhood with astronauts and the other folks that worked at NASA, and that was always interesting,” Mrs. Allred said. “At one time, Buzz Aldrin lived around the corner, and the other [now old-timers] lived in the neighborhood.”
It was in Houston that Allred, then a widower with two small sons, met Pat. The pair dated for a time, always including Allred’s two sons, John, III, and Duncan, in their plans. They married, and had a third son, Parker. They celebrated their 42nd wedding anniversary on Aug. 18.
Another common thread in conversations with his friends was Allred’s fierce love for, and pride in, his wife and sons.
“When he worked at NASA, before we were married, he got a townhouse next door to the office, so that he could look out the window and see the boys,” Mrs. Allred said. “That’s just how it was, and how he always was.”
Because of the nature of his work, Allred could not often talk about his profession at home. However, work, and later politics, was usually second to his true passions: his family, his music, and his love for history.
“When he was in the fourth grade, he heard an opera singer, and he said to himself, ‘I can do that,’ and so he did,” Mrs. Allred said. “He was a tenor, and always sang, until his health started to go and he couldn’t get the breath to sing.”
Along with his singing, he was an accomplished actor, participating in stage productions from the time he was 18, until his health began to fail. Allred was instrumental in the development and success of community theater in Lockhart, as an active participant in the Baker Community Theater (now the Gaslight-Baker Theatre).
“I think in a lot of ways, it was his success as an actor that helped people not know how sick he was when he was ill, or what was going on in his mind before that,” Mrs. Allred said. “He was on stage from the time he was 18, and I think a lot of people saw that – his stage face – rather than what we saw at home.”
Two things Allred couldn’t hide with stage acting, though, were his Southern charm, and his love for history.
“He had a way about him, at council meetings, where he could just guide people into agreeing to disagree, and doing that civilly,” said Sanders, who served as a councilmember under Allred from 1993 – 1996. “He was the epitome of bringing people together.”
Allred did so at a time, in recent Lockhart history, that was incredibly volatile, rife with disagreement about historical preservation projects, controversy about the future of the Dr. Eugene Clark Library, and arguments about the future of the Lockhart Hospital.
“He was a great mentor, with incredible ‘inner peace,’” Sanders said. “He taught me a lot, but he could never quite teach me that.”
Rather, Allred’s teaching often came in lessons of history, his hobbyist passion. According to Mrs. Allred, he was a rabid student of history, who was well versed not only in the history of the South, but of English history, and the history of his family.
“When we went on vacations, we almost always went to some historical church,” Mrs. Allred said. “More than once, we’d go on a tour and the guide would explain something, and he’d pipe in with, ‘well… that’s true, but there was also this.’ They seemed to enjoy it and would talk with him about whatever part of history he was explaining.”
With a mind like his, and a personal history touched again and again with greatness, one might wonder what drew Allred to bring his family to Lockhart.
“Houston grew up around us, and we just didn’t like the city and the traffic,” Mrs. Allred said. “When he got transferred to Lockheed in Austin, I drew a circle on a map, and visited every junior high school within 30 minutes, looking for a school for Parker.”
An experienced teacher, Mrs. Allred said she was offered positions at several schools in the area, but had decided at that time she didn’t want to teach. Still, she decided on Lockhart after speaking to counselors at Lockhart Junior High School, and the decision was made more clear when they found, and later purchased, a grand Southern home on Main Street.
“That house, it’s the kind of house that we grew up in, and we just fell in love with it from the start,” she said. “And John, he just loved sitting on the porch in the evenings, like Southerners do, and opening up the house and having guests.”
It was there the Allreds made their home, beginning in 1984, until recently, when a smaller, one-story home became more practical in light of Allred’s health.
Once in Lockhart, the Allreds dug in full force, opening an antique shop, becoming involved in business, politics and, of course, the theatre. Both, at times, have been named Lockhart’s “Most Worthy Citizen” by the Lockhart Chamber of Commerce, and are known for their kindness, service and dedication.
“Despite his dry brand of humor – which we sometimes tried to tell him sounded… John was without question the kindest and most generous of all of us,” Mrs. Allred said.
In offering condolences, two friends summed Allred up neatly:
“Ever kind, and always gracious,” said one.
“He is the goodest man I know.”
In keeping with his wishes, Allred will be cremated, and his ashes scattered at several of his favorite locations, including Big Bend and near his Mississippi home. A memorial service celebrating his life will be held at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Lockhart on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2010, at 10 a.m.
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