February 10, 1929 – March 5, 2019
On Tuesday March 5th, 2019, Richard passed away peacefully with sons Daniel and Philip at his side. Richard’s was a most unique and exemplary life, full of love, insight, and passion to his final days. Born on February 10, 1929 in Vancouver, BC, Richard was the eldest of three children. The son of a United Church minister, Richard’s early years were spent moving around British Columbia as his family was transferred from one pastoral charge to another. In these isolated settings, full of grand and illustrious landscapes and mountains he cultivated his love of the great Canadian outdoors. As a boy, he would trek up mountains with friends - skis and poles on their backs and lunch in their packs, taking hours to climb, all to enjoy one single exhilarating descent. Richard was born into a familial world that passionately and joyfully celebrated music and the arts. His family held Saturday night sing-songs with friends and neighbours, his mother Ruby - an accomplished pianist - pounding the keys, his father Harold bellowing out the songs with Richard and the guests trying to keep up! In his youth he studied violin, voice, and sang the male lead in his high school’s operetta, and continued to sing enthusiastically at church and to enjoy listening to music throughout his life. Harold’s vocation, social engagement and United Church philosophy introduced Richard to a steadfast love and compassion for fellow humans, a down-to-earth spirituality, a commitment to social justice and political engagement that inspired his academic studies, and later fueled his professional life. Greatly influenced by his upbringing, Richard’s studies culminated in a PhD at Duke University where he pioneered new ground in the field of Canadian Social History, exploring the intersection of religion and social reform in Canada. His labour of love gave birth to “The Social Passion”, which transformed Richard into an author of some renown. His work quickly became celebrated in Canadian intellectual and academic circles. Holding professorial posts at the University of Saskatchewan (1964-73) and McMaster University (1973-87) in Canadian history, his amazing ability to remember and convey not only names, dates and places, but also historical concepts, stories, and anecdotes, coupled with his warm and friendly demeanour, made him well-liked and respected by students and colleagues alike. It was this same warmth and friendliness, along with his commitment to social justice that won over the hearts and minds of constituents in the historic 1983 Hamilton West by-election. Richard became the riding’s first ever NDP Member of Provincial Parliament. Constituents were initially surprised to find a gentle, highly intelligent, non-judgmental man on their doorstep. One who truly listened to their concerns, who patiently took time to discuss issues, and who genuinely regarded them as equals - no matter their background, profession, or gender. This was Richard’s way of doing “politics”, and he continued serving the riding in his unassuming and dedicated way for 13 years, including five years as a Cabinet Minister in the NDP Provincial government (1990-95).
Richard was also a loving husband and father. A business relationship with Nettie (typist for his PhD manuscript) bloomed into passionate romance and they were married in 1965, with sons Daniel and Philip arriving shortly thereafter at the home in Regina. Richard’s sense of adventure provided loving opportunities for challenge and growth for the whole family. While camping in 1972 the family happened upon, and fell in love with, an old but magnificent log cottage for sale on a small island in Eastern Manitoba. Not long after purchase, they discovered it was riddled with rotting logs, a leaky roof, and semi-functional motors on the boats. It was the beginning of Richard’s ‘apprenticeship’ in, and love affair with log cottage restoration which was to last a quarter century. There were hair-raising boat rides to the island in the pouring rain after dark, and the three day trek along the Trans-Canada highway to the cottage once he accepted the teaching post at McMaster (the choice to keep the rustic abode one would question as highly illogical and impractical coming from a man so highly endowed with rich intellectual reasoning powers, instead choosing to follow the calling of his heart).
Richard’s strong interest in and sympathy with social democratic separatist factions in Quebec inspired a year-long sabbatical adventure for the family in Montreal in 1978/79. One would think not a logical choice, possibly not even a responsible one, for the head of an anglophone family at the time, but the boys had been prepared by attending french schools in Hamilton, and Richard and Nettie, once settled, enrolled in french classes in their NDG neighbourhood. Again, the family was forever changed, this time by the warmth of their french neighbours, the flair of the culture, the turbulence of the politics, and the majestic beauty of the Laurentian ski hills.
With its progressive theology and assertive social action, it is not a surprise that Westdale United Church in Hamilton became the congregation of choice. Early on, Richard and Nettie had leapt right in, leading, with a number of inspired others, an innovative multi-denominational Family Church School Program before Sunday morning church services. More recently, Richard, always the thinker and seeker, set up an annual “Visiting Speaker Series”, bringing in cutting edge writers to challenge the theological thinking of the congregation and surrounding community.
Post 1995, Richard’s ‘retirement’ focus returned to writing. Three books were published, three waiting in the wings. Struggling against all odds with failing sight and a body that could not keep pace with his brilliant mind, he successfully birthed the last of these, “Beyond the Noise of Solemn Assemblies: The Protestant Ethic and the Quest for Social Justice in Canada”, being published in January 2019.
He and Nettie shared a love of animals, and they spent their final couple of decades at their Dundas cottage with their dogs Trevean, Viana, and Betty Jo. His love of the arts continued right up to the end, with Daniel accompanying a determined, albeit visually, physically, and hearing impaired Richard to Shaw Festival plays and spectacular operas in Toronto in the summer and fall of 2018.
To paraphrase some thoughts recently shared by good friends: Richard was a kind, gentle man. A person of strong determination and great will-power who deeply cared for all those who were vulnerable or oppressed. Our whole society should send up a shout of thanksgiving that we’ve had the opportunity to be led by this man.
Richard was predeceased by his beloved wife of 52 years Nettie Allen, his parents Harold and Ruby Allen, his sister Joan Hooper and her husband Ian, and his brother Philip. He was much loved and will be greatly missed by his children Daniel and Philip, and Philip’s partner Rebecca Richardson, and by his two granddaughters, Gemma and Mika - whom he absolutely adored. He is deeply mourned by his sister-in-law Ruth, a host of cousins, nieces and nephews, as well as extended family members and friends in the local community and all across the country.
There will be a visitation at the Marlatt Funeral Home, 195 King St. West, Dundas, Friday, March 22, 6:00 - 9:00 pm. A memorial service will be held at Westdale United Church, 99 North Oval, Hamilton, Saturday, March 23, 11:00 am, with a light lunch/reception to follow at the church to which all present are invited. In lieu of flowers, donations to Hamilton Interval House would be appreciated (www.intervalhousehamilton.org).
Online condolences may be made at www.marlattfhdundas.com
- Visitation Friday, March 22, 2019
- Memorial Service Saturday, March 23, 2019
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March 22, 2019
Richard was a unique and special person. I will miss him. My love to all the family. I'm so happy that you were able to share recent time together.
March 21, 2019
In Rae government years it was my duty to represent certain business interests in Hamilton and more particularly regarding the Red Hill Creek project. A meeting between some of those interested business people and our local MLA's was organized and of course Richard Allen was in attendance. And then more recently he asked me for advice.
It was then and more recently a personal honour to be engaged.
Richard demonstrated in words, tone and actions why so many applaud his kindness, generosity of personal spirit and humanity. One could not be in conflict with Richard, even so as one might be in a disagreement of politics or economics or policy. For a disagreement with him could not be disagreeable, he was not that way.
His was the type of public and private service to others we may all aspire to keep in our own way. May he Rest in Peace.
March 20, 2019
I had the great good fortune to know Richard, first as his student ( he taught me Canadian history when I was an undergraduate at McMaster); and later as his Executive Assistant when he was Minister of Colleges and Universities and Skills Development; and finally as his friend. I will always be grateful for the opportunity to work with this man who was so highly respected, who exuded compassion as well as integrity (those two are often hard to balance but Richard managed), and who won the admiration and the loyalty of so many of the public servants who worked with him over his years at Queen's Park. They marvelled that the Minister actually read their briefing notes and asked them intelligent, respectful and probing questions! When I last saw Richard in late January, it was over tea and my homemade scones (which he loved). I admired the beautiful new book hot off the press on his coffee table. It deals with the subject most dear to both our hearts- the necessary connection between faith and social action. We were discussing (again) our time in government- what we got wrong but more importantly, what we got right and never got credit for. I was feeling despondent about the state of modern politics; Richard was undeterred. The struggle was not optional for him. And he never gave up-right until the end. Rest in peace, Richard. My life is so much the better for having known you.
March 18, 2019
Dear Family, I have just found out on Wikipedia!!! about Richard's passing. I am quite saddened by the loss of Richard for whom I had a deep respect. MPP from 1984 until 1995, I had the immense pleasure of getting to know and appreciating Richard for his numerous qualities: generous, brilliant, caring, a devoted member for all the right reasons. I shall always keep fond memories of this noble gentleman. I also enjoyed very much his and Nettie's company on parliamentary trips. Dominique-Marie joins me in expressing to you and yours our most sincere condolences. Ontario has lost a most honorable person who never stopped caring for his fellow human beings. Au revoir, cher Richard et un grand merci pour ton amitié. Sincerely, (Mr.) Jean Poirier, former Liberal MPP Prescott and Russell, Alfred Ontario.
March 18, 2019
Although Richard and I were fellow faculty members at McMaster, I knew him only through our fellow engagement with the NDP. I remember the thrill of working on his by-election victory in Hamilton West in 1982--the first time in 20 years that I had worked on a winning NDP campaign. Richard was always a thoughtful and deeply committed advocate for social justice. As minister of housing in the Bob Rae government, he oversaw the building of much-needed social housing throughout the province; the need for such housing is great today, but would be even greater without his advocacy and implementation. As minister of colleges, universities and training, Richard made sure that operating grants to post-secondary institutions increased at the rate of inflation rather than being cut back, as had been the case under the Harris and Peterson governments. In later discussions of NDP fortunes and misfortunes, he often bemoaned the failure of NDP leaders today to defend the record of the Rae government. Most recently, at a fundraising event in December 2018, he blamed this failure for the fact that the NDP fell behind Doug Ford's "Progressive" Conservatives in the last provincial elections after leading in the polls at one point. He believed that Ontario could now have an NDP government if the party had defended its record in office in 1990-1995. I will remember him as a paragon of thoughtful commitment to social justice.
March 16, 2019
Very sad to hear of the passing of Richard Allen. I first met him working on NDP campaigns in ADFW. I loved hearing his stories.
March 15, 2019
To Richard's family,
I will always thing of Richard with admiration for his decency and intelligence. It was an utter pleasure to work with him at Queen's Park.
He respected friend and foe and sought justice for all with determination and good will.
I hope that you will be warmed and given solace by the many of us who loved him.
IN THE CARE OF