Three weeks ago Friday, Bill Allen cracked a slightly risque joke and the pressure of a busy week evaporated as several of his co-workers headed out for the weekend.
The following Monday, Allen collapsed in his Huntsville office – eventually losing the fight for his life last Friday night.
With a gruff exterior, Allen was a no-nonsense leader in the local media industry. Moving from radio to newspapers, from market to market throughout Muskoka and Parry Sound, working at, starting, and managing papers against competitors - he thrived in what could be described as a microcosm of the battles international media icons wage on the world stage.
In this area, Allen was a competitor in almost every media battle that has taken place.
And if you measure his success by his accomplishments, Allen fared pretty well in that war – on the day he died he was the top local manager of the newspapers of record in Parry Sound, Huntsville, Bracebridge, Almaguin and Gravenhurst and of a new paper in North Bay. To do anything else, he would have had to leave home.
But a love of his home and community is part of what defined Allen. Full of stories about people, he always had tales to tell about what once happened here, memories and anecdotes about what local residents had done.
His co-workers, family and close friends know, inside that gruff exterior was a man with incomparable compassion for his community. From Parry Sound – where he grew up and where his parents always remained – to Muskoka, where he raised his children – Allen knew his business would thrive as long as the communities did. He knew our communities could and would grow.
He also knew that people, hard-working people, were the key to success.
At first, a working relationship with Allen could be frustrating. You’d wander into his office looking for answers, only to leave with more questions.
Only when he had to, did he tell his staff what to do. More often, he left the success of every project, every new venture, in the hands of those around him.
He’d help his co-workers out in an emergency, making a call, secretly lending a few dollars to an employee in a pinch, but for the most part he pushed them to solve problems and achieve successes on their own.
Inside our offices, saying very little, asking many questions and waiting for answers, he had a knack for leading his staff towards an understanding that he was relying on them to come up with the answers. In short, he had great faith in people. He expected them to succeed. If you didn’t, he pushed you further. If you did, he still pushed you further. Over time, each employee and co-worker came to understand this faith that had been placed on them.
Driven by that faith, they worked incredibly hard, as Allen worked hard. They succeeded, and so Allen succeeded. He quietly developed, while most of us weren’t really paying attention, a group of some of the most talented people in Ontario’s community newspaper industry.
He leaves behind countless people who discovered they could accomplish more than they ever imagined. Many remain in our offices. Many have gone on to other great accomplishments.
But as a result, he’s affected every one of our communities for decades, archiving and shaping their history, quietly helping define their future, and encouraging people to discover they can make a difference.
His faith in others leaves us all with great faith in ourselves, in what we can accomplish, in what our communities will become.
Because he pushed us all, his impact will always remain, but Bill Allen is already missed.