Robert Allen

Obituary of Robert Allen

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Robert van Roden Allen died in Cape May, New Jersey on Monday April 18, 2022, at age 70. Born in Philadelphia, he grew up in Ocean City, New Jersey with his three sisters, where he sang in the choir and played the church organ at First Presbyterian, where his father was pastor. He graduated from Ocean City High School in 1969, and earned his bachelor’s degree in history from Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. With a deft ear for languages and having developed a passion for the big ideas of the French and German existentialist philosophers, Bob traveled to Europe upon graduating college. He lived in Salzburg, Austria for half a year and in the south of France for another year, where he studied the works of his favorite writers and thinkers in their original languages. It was while taking philosophy courses at the University of Nice, where he met the love of his life, Sylviane. As the story goes, he gifted her a Spanish guitar for her birthday in the fall, and the following summer they had moved to the United States and were married in Ocean City. Soon after, he pursued and completed his PhD in philosophy at Penn State University in State College, Pennsylvania, where they raised their three children. Bob was a passionate person, deeply devoted to fighting for the underdog, which took on many forms throughout his life. As a graduate student, he taught college courses at the state penitentiary; he was involved throughout the decades with political student activist groups and local grass-roots organizations working on progressive causes, and he spent the best part of his career as a labor organizer for 1199 SEIU, a hospital and health care workers union. Bob raised his family to understand the dangers of racism, materialism, and militarism, and the importance of learning the real history of our country - to always ask, “Who is telling the story, and whose story is it to tell?” In asking this question, Bob’s two biggest passion projects were born. For the better part of three decades, he undertook two different oral history projects: in the 1980s and nineties he produced an extensive, detailed body of work titled, Lock Haven, USA, and the Dream Deferred, wherein he compiled and edited his interviews with over fifty of the Lock Haven, Pennsylvania International Paper mill workers, who had been laid off from their jobs during an historic strike. In the past twenty years, all while teaching college courses in geography, world history, and the history of sport in our country, Bob dedicated himself to recording the stories of black baseball players who played in the segregated Negro Leagues before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. He traveled to interview every octogenarian player willing to share his or her story of struggle and triumph, and networked extensively with other researchers in the field. Bob’s end goal was always to help shed light on and amplify the voices of those who had been marginalized, often not given the credit they were due for their extraordinary contributions to history. His large collection of work and writing remains unfinished but his family and colleagues will collaborate to bring his dream to fruition. Needless to say, Bob could always be counted on for a fabulously long and knowledgeable answer to any question about history, or really any topic, which would elicit as much eye-rolling from his young kids as it would a deep respect and gratitude from them as they grew older. When he was at home, he was always reading a book, with a stack of magazines, newspapers, and the next book at the ready. He often cut out articles and photocopied sections of texts, placing them on our dinner table spots, encouraging us to keep up with the pressing matters and relevant news of the world. To balance out the current events, he would hand you perhaps a French classic by Albert Camus to sink your teeth into, or a rich, magical Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel to carry you away. He loved “looking at films,” which the rest of us call “watching movies,” and listening to records - from Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen, Marvin Gaye, and Whitney Houston to French favorites like Edith Piaf, Yves Montand, and so much in between. When we begged him, he would indulge us at the piano. We always asked him to play Bach, or Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, which seemed to take him to a special place. He played his tapes of Martin Luther King’s famous speeches and sermons over and over while we were growing up, and through his last days in the hospital, the sound of that beloved orator’s voice, delivered via YouTube, perked up his senses and seemed to orient him. He could mouth Langston Hughes’ poetry even when he could no longer speak; “What happens to a dream deferred?” he asked just the other day. Bob had a complex mind, a humble, introspective personality, and held high standards of those he loved and respected. He loved to talk at great length with his grandkids, about anything they wanted, often indulging their questions with his zesty, absurdist humor. Bob was witty, irreverent, and could be wickedly funny. He loved to play with words in several languages; he made up bedtime stories with memorable characters, like one myopic groundhog; and he invented perfect nicknames for each of his family members and close friends. He was deeply sensitive all while giving off the confidence of a grizzly bear. Bob had a big, tender heart and was fiercely loyal to those in his inner circle. He was a devoted dad, present and supportive in the ways that each of his kids needed: whether carting one kid to music lessons or to the skate park and ski resort; whether cheering vociferously at another kid’s gymnastics meet or fighting to reinstate her entire college gymnastics team in a legal battle, which he helped spearhead and win. He was a level-headed shoulder to cry on, and could be counted on for constructive and practical advice while not-so-subtly working in his opinion on the matter. Although far from a man of few words, he needed only raise one eyebrow or give half a smile to express his pride and love. For nearly forty-six years, Bob made it known how much he looked forward to and enjoyed his wife’s world class French cuisine - one of his all time favorite meals was a perfect slice of ham and bacon filled Quiche Lorraine. He himself was a terrible cook but loved to grill, famous for burning the chicken on the outside and leaving it raw on the inside. He once made spaghetti and fish bait for dinner, and was gravely offended we didn’t recognize fancy calamari when we saw it. He was terrible at card games, he made up his own rules if he was forced to play, and he definitely had no time for Monopoly or games of world domination. At Christmas, his giddy, inner child came alive, especially when it came to setting up his mid-century Lionel trains on their original, snowy platform and running them for months into the new year, when the rest of the family was ready to take them down. Bob loved being within sight of the Atlantic Ocean, or in it, jumping waves, and while he entertained us in the past few years with talk of moving out to Salt Lake City where his three kids had migrated, he was never really going to leave the comforting, salty smell of the Ocean City Bay. He was impossibly stubborn and infinitely generous at the same time; the kind of man you wanted to pummel and hug all at once. We will miss him profoundly. Bob is survived by his beloved wife, Sylviane; daughter Ariane and son-in-law David, daughter Cecile and son-in-law Brian, son Vincent and daughter-in-law Heather; and his sisters Martha and Nancy Allen. He was the proud grandfather of five, Sebastien and Liv, Jade and Sage, and Aiden, who had recently discovered his new favorite word to say, “Papi.” Bob was preceded in death by his eldest sister, Barbara Allen, and his parents, Mary Jane and William R. Allen. Details for a celebration of Bob’s life will be shared at a future date.
A Memorial Tree was planted for Robert
We are deeply sorry for your loss ~ the staff at The Godfrey Funeral Home
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