Dave Ward, the longtime Houston television news anchor, says he was walking down the street one day years ago when a young boy rushed up to him and said, breathlessly: "You're Dave Ward! Do you know Bob Allen?"
Ward, indeed, knew Bob Allen. Most everyone in Houston, in fact, knew Allen, the longtime Houston sportscaster at KTRK (Channel 13) and, from 2013 through 2015, at KHOU (Channel 11), who died early Thursday after a 16-month battle with cancer. He was 70.
For more than 38 years at Channel 13, working alongside Ward and his other colleagues as one of the nation's longest-tenured sports anchors, Allen was the nightly pipeline to the Oilers, Astros and Rockets and other pro, college and high school teams for hundreds of thousands of viewers on Houston's most-watched newscasts.
While chronicling some of the most memorable moments in Houston sports history, he also became a friend and benefactor to dozens of young men and women through his work with the Sunshine Kids and Special Olympics.
"I really did get to live my dream," he said in a 2013 interview. "I did what I loved to do, and I did it for a pretty long time without ever having to leave my home town."
Allen was diagnosed in the spring of 2015 with T-cell lymphoma, a variety of blood cancer that derives from the abnormal growth of T-cells, a type of white blood cell that plays a role in the body's immune system.
He received a stem cell transplant in December and in February said he was cancer-free before complications developed in recent weeks. He spent the final two weeks of his life at home in hospice care.
Allen's daughter, Genna Fincher, said in a statement, "We are so incredibly touched by the love and support shown to us during this difficult time. My dad valued his place in the Houston community, and the encouragement he received from you over the last two years gave him more strength and comfort than you will ever know."
Loved sports as a boy
Born Robert Alan Egalnick, Allen was the son of Lee Egalnick, founder of the Karl Young League for youth baseball, and played the sport while growing up.
He also was a television junkie. In a 2013 interview, he said that at age 10 he rode his bicycle from the family home in West University Place to Channel 13's studios so he could meet news anchor Ray Conaway and sportscaster Guy Savage.
After graduating from Westbury High School and Stephen F. Austin State University, he began his career at KPRC (950 AM) and joined Channel 13 in July 1974 as a weekend anchor. He was named sports director in 1975 and remained a fixture for decades.
"I was with him on that desk for 38 years," Ward said. "He had a huge smile, a great smile. And he was big with kids, like the little boy who called him BobAllen, in one word. He told them how their teams were doing, win or lose."
Allen left Channel 13 early in 2013 and, in an unexpected career twist six months later, became sports director at Channel 11.
He remained on the air at KHOU until June 2015, when he disclosed his illness and began treatment at MD Anderson Cancer Center.
"When he became ill, he said, hey, I'm going to beat this thing, but if not, I've had a great life," said his brother, Ken Egalnick. "He went into it with that attitude. He fought like hell, but he had no regrets."
Allen's home was lined with memorabilia from his years covering Houston sports, including tickets from the Colt .45s' first game in 1962, press passes for the Rockets' first season and the Billie Jean King-Bobby Riggs tennis extravaganza and photos with Nolan Ryan, George Foreman, Sugar Ray Leonard, Ted Williams and Stan Musial, among others.
As a native of Houston, he said in 2013 that he struggled to balance his feelings as a fan with his obligations as a reporter.
"I think I was honest," he said. "I had to walk that fine line of having to criticize my hometown team when I had to but still be for them. I'd still be rooting for them.
"I may have gone over the line with criticism sometime. I may have been trying too hard to be Howard Cosell. But I think I told it like it was."
"He had such boyish enthusiasm," said CBS Sports announcer Jim Nantz, who met Allen during his student days at the University of Houston. "He was like Dick Clark. I thought if I popped out of a time capsule 50 years from now, he'd still be doing sportscasts with the same enthusiasm."
'He was the real deal'
As his health failed, among his final visitors were friends and co-workers, including former Channel 13 sports reporter Tim Melton and longtime sports radio anchor Barry Warner.
"I loved working with him," Melton said. "I respected him and considered him more than a friend, like a brother, and I am going to miss him a great deal.
"He was the best-known and most-admired sportscaster in town, but there was more. He didn't just lend his name to Sunshine Kids and Special Olympics. He put himself into both organizations."
He also encouraged athletes, including Astros Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, to join him in the charity that assists children and teens with cancer.
"He was the real deal when it came to the Sunshine Kids," Biggio said. "They were part of his family, and vice versa."
G.W. Bailey, the foundation's executive director, added, "It was his friendship and passion to give kids a little of their childhood back that moved us all so deeply. … We have lost a giant."
Bob is survived by his daughter, Genna Fincher and her husband Brent; grandchildren, Mason and Hayden; brother, Ken Egalnick and his wife Debbie; niece, Kristin Egalnick; nephew, Kenny Egalnick; and great-nephew, Kane Hutchison.
Family, friends, colleagues and loved ones are to gather for a private memorial service and celebration of his life led by Rev. William A. Lawson, founding pastor and current pastor emeritus of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in Houston.
In lieu of customary remembrances and for those desiring, his family requests with gratitude that memorial contributions in his name be directed to the Sunshine Kids, 2814 Virginia St., Houston, TX, 77098.