Betsy Allen Davis and Page Allen agreed, when they spoke at their father’s funeral, they simply didn’t realize when they were children that Howard Allen was an exceptional citizen and gentleman.
“He was the kindest man I have ever known,” Betsy remembered. “He never spoke ill of anyone and he loved his family, his work, his town and his friends passionately.”
A native of Winchester, son of Lewis M. Allen, MD, a well-known obstetrician in Winchester and Dorothy Gilpin Allen, Allen moved to Middleburg in 1955 and raised his daughters there with his wife, Nancy Lee Coble Allen, who preceded him in death earlier this year.
A quiet man who was highly regarded by everyone, Allen grew up at Clifton Farm on the Virginia and West Virginia border, where, as young children, he and his brother met the young Charles Lindberg when he landed at Winchester Airport early in his aviation career.
“Lindberg was a hero to my Dad,” Betsy explained. “He and his brothers, Lewis and Doug, were at the Winchester Airport when Lindberg made a stop over once and were able to get his autographe ……Dad treasured the memory of the courageous pilot all his life.”
Howard Allen and his wife were exceptional Middleburg citizens and the small Hunt Country Village benefited enormously from their generosity and dedication. But, as Betsy remembered, late in his life she realized that he was unaware of how treasured he was by his friends and community when he suggested that his organs be donated, “I have not done enough for people during my lifetime, perhaps by donating my organs I will help others after I am gone.”
“Nothing could have been further from the truth,” Betsy recalled, “…so I sat down and wrote him a long letter describing all the many kindnesses and countless hours of service he had given to everyone. I think he was really surprised and touched. After he read my letter, he said, “Maybe I’ve done more than I realized…Thank you…. That makes me feel so much better.”
One of the people who trusted Howard Allen thoroughly was Jacqueline Kennedy. When the Kennedys were in Middleburg, neither Betsy nor Page really realized how important they were. “It was through the Middleburg Orange County Pony Club, that we first met the Kennedys. Page was often invited out to Glen Ora to ride with Caroline and then stay for dinner. Page never really thought much about it, she loved to ride and therefore was just going to a friend’s house to ride. ”
“We knew her husband was the President, but Jackie was so natural and unassuming that we could not have imagined the glamorous life she was living. Dad always said there were two Jackies: the First Lady, the very poised and elegant lady that the public saw; and the young mother who simply loved to ride and cherished her simple life with her family in Middleburg.”
In fact, Jackie never visited Middleburg without visiting The Fun Shop, Nancy Allen’s amazing emporium of everything anyone could possibly want or need that is now run by Page and Betsy. And, she always asked to see Howard.
“She was so protective of her children,” Betsy explained, “…and she was so worried about photographers taking pictures and selling to inappropriate outlets. As soon as she realized that she could trust our Dad absolutely, they developed a close friendship that lasted all her life.”
In fact, Mrs. Kennedy and then Mrs. Onassis, shared her birthday with Howard Allen and never did that special day go by that she didn’t write him a long congratulatory letter, to which he responded in kind.
“I remember, not so many years ago, when Jackie had come to the shop to see my Dad and it was very close to closing time. She asked to see his photos of the latest hunt she was in and he brought out what seemed like hundreds and she spread them out all over the floor in the back card room.”
“They had been there a long time when I went back to see how they were doing and realized that my niece, Whitney, had seen Jackie sitting cross-legged on the floor. Whitney showed her some ballet moves and Jackie asked her if she knew yoga and then proceeded to show her some yoga positions.
Jackie was one of the most naturally charming and kind individuals one could imagine…. Very much like my Dad, in fact. It’s no wonder they were such good and trusted friends.”
One of the highlights of Howard’s life was the publication of his book, Unforgotten Times: Jackie Kennedy’s Happy Days in the Virginia Hunt Country. Because he had never released or sold any of his Kennedy photos, Howard wrote Caroline after Jackie’s death, and asked if she would give her “blessing” for him to publish some of them as part of the historical record. She agreed absolutely, and the resulting volume led to his being regarded by many as ‘the unofficial Kennedy family photographer during the time they spent in Hunt Country. Dad often said that he believed that at age 93, he was the oldest first time author to be published!
According to Amazon, Howard’s book is a poignant reminder of the lost magic of the Kennedy years and includes never-before-seen photographs. With text by the photographer, the book gives a glimpse into the private life of a very public family, but it also shows the loving mother Jackie was to Caroline and John.
Many believe that she was never happier than when she was in the country and that her life in Middleburg was a welcome escape from the pressures of being First Lady.
One of Howard Allen’s most treasured possessions was a photograph he took of Caroline dressed as a princess that Jackie signed and framed for him.
Howard was, according to his daughter, a humble man.
“He was always the unpretentious fellow in the background. He didn’t scold us or insist we do things his way, but he was always there in a heartbeat for anything we needed or wanted. Our lives growing up seem perfect looking back now…….. and perhaps they were.
Even as a photographer, Howard was totally uncontrived. He usually carried only one camera and not a lot of gear…… although he was known to have two sometimes…. especially for weddings.
He also made it clear in his price list for events and weddings that he took photographs as he saw them….without staging to capture important moments.
“If you want staged photography, I’m not your photographer.”
Adored by her parents, whom she greatly admired, Betsy also grew up to be a highly valued citizen, following in the footsteps of her father. In fact, in the footsteps of her paternal grandmother, Dorothy Gilpin Allen, who was the first female member of Town Council in Winchester, VA.
In addition to his pursuit as a photographer, he actively pursued tennis and golf and served on a multitude of county and village organizations…… the Middleburg Town Council and Planning Commission, Middleburg Lion’s Club, American Legion, and Emmanuel Episcopal Church Vestry and Treasurer.
He thoroughly enjoyed and supported local equine endeavors and his daughter, Page, had a beautiful pony, Craven Bantam, that she showed successfully.
“I liked to ride,” Betsy recalled, but Page was really the horsewoman. In fact, riding became her life ….she trained at Morven Park to become a riding instructor and later taught there, as well. Our dad loved and supported all the local equine events……. from horse shows, to the Fall and Spring races and the Hunts. Dad and Mom (and Page and I) always looked forward to going to Foxcroft on Thanksgiving morning for the wonderful Hunt Breakfast and to watch the beautiful horses and riders take off on their merry chase! It was a magical morning.”
In his later years, Howard had quite a routine He began by going to the Middleburg Bank, then to the Post Office, and then, of course to The Fun Shop to check in, and then to Library because he was an avid reader and finally to the Safeway. In fact, he went to the Safeway several times a day. Neither he nor Nancy kept up-to-date lists of what they needed, so Safeway trips became a regular and frequent feature of his daily outings.
When Betsy and Page were thinking about what to say at his funeral, it was difficult for them to really describe the life he provided.
“He adored us and we adored him,” Betsy said.“I am grateful that Page and I had the opportunity to tell Dad how much we loved him and how much he meant to us….. and he was able to tell us the same. There was nothing left unsaid”
So the WWII ambulance driver who traversed the front lines, who was a church leader, a town council and planning commission member, who always had a helping hand for all he knew, who loved breakfast more than any other meal of the day and who was known to his grandchildren as Doodin…which was also on his license plate….who was open to the change that he knew was inevitable in his much-loved village… leaves a family that serves the community in much the same way he did.
“He taught by example,” Betsy said. “When we were young, we didn’t fully appreciate what we had. But he knew absolutely how much we appreciated it before he died.”
Nevertheless, she concluded, he would be scuffling his foot in the dirt if he could read this, he was too humble to accept a lot of compliments.
Howard Allen was an avid tennis player and golfer and played golf into his 90s. He was a member of the Middleburg Tennis Club, Loudoun Golf and Country Club in Purcellville, Winchester Golf and Country Club and Millwood Golf Club.
His wife of 67 years, Nancy Lee Coble Allen, preceded him in death in 2015.
He is survived by two daughters, Dorothy Page Allen of Boyce, Va. and Betsy Allen Davis of Middleburg; a brother, Douglas Allen of West Chester, Pa., four grandchildren, Brooke Costin Kline of Charlotte, N.C. (husband, Nate); and Liza Costin Taub of Clifton, Va. (husband, Phil); Whitney Allen Groseclose of Arlington and Lauren Davis of Middleburg and four great-grandchildren, Emma Madison Taub (11), Mason McKelvy Taub (7), Morgan McKelvy Kline (7) and Elise Catherine Kline (4).
The family requests that any charitable donations in Mr. Allen´s name be sent to the Middleburg Community Center, Box 265, Middleburg, Va. 20118, American Legion Post 295, P.O. Box 4, Middleburg, Va. 20118 or to Laurel Center, Box 14, Winchester, Va., 22604.