In memoriam: Andrew Allen

In memoriam: Andrew Allen McGill University

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McGill Reporter
December 7, 2000 - Volume 33 Number 07
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Home > McGill Reporter > Volume 33: 2000-2001 > December 7, 2000 > In memoriam: Andrew Allen

In Memoriam: Andrew Allen

A man without a university degree, Andrew Allen had the temerity to tell tenured professors how they ought to spell words. A straitlaced Brit, he played a major role in ensuring that the University reached out to the Quebec community in both of Canada's official languages.

As the director of McGill's Alumni Relations Office from 1963 to 1972 and as the director of the Public Relations Office from 1972 to 1981, Allen was a key player in determining how the University was perceived off campus.

As a young man, Allen, by his own admission no great student, dropped out of school during the Depression to work for an insurance company. When World War II began, he joined the armed forces and was dispatched to Algeria as a second lieutenant in the British army. While there, he contracted diphtheria and was classified as medically unfit for active service. His stint in Algeria changed his life for the better, though, as he met his future wife Maria there. Allen had reached the rank of lieutenant colonel when he left the armed forces.

After the war, he toiled as a civil servant and was sent to Canada in 1951 as a trade commissioner for the United Kingdom. He returned to England to work at the Rank Organization, one of the country's top movie producers, as a public relations officer. Rank sent Allen to Belgium and then, back to Canada. Later, McGill colleagues would recall spying a picture of Allen with Sophia Loren, an artifact of his time at Rank.

When Rank shifted away from movie-making, Allen joined McGill and, in his words, "began the happiest part of what I laughingly called my career."

Former secretary-general David Bourke recalls Allen's "formidable attempt to impose the Oxford Dictionary's spelling on the entire McGill community. An attempt which met with considerable hostility from many academics, former Vice-Principal (Academic) Leo Yaffe, in particular, who had a mind about those 'non-academics' who had the gall to rule a community of scholars!"

Allen was a pioneer in university public relations in this country and Bourke believes it's no accident that two women who worked with him as communications officers, Betsy Hirst and Cecily Lawson-Smith, went on to become public relations directors with McGill teaching hospitals.

From 1973 to 1981, the Public Relations Office published "Research McGill," a regular compilation of McGill research successes, in order to, as Allen put it, make McGill professors' findings palatable to the layman by having "those who knew, but could not write, speak to those who did not know, but could write."

In 1977, Allen spearheaded the creation of the "McGill Memo/McGill En Bref" columns, a collection of capsules about academic and student life, as well as a list of events to which the public were invited, which were published in the Montreal Star, The Gazette, Le Devoir and Québec Science.

The paid-for columns were so well crafted, the Star and The Gazette received letters of praise from readers about the features, who didn't realize they were ads.

Allen passed away on November 20 at Lakeshore General Hospital.

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