Richard Allin (1930–2007)
Richard Allin was a journalist and humorist who for thirty years wrote the popular “Our Town” column for the Arkansas Gazette and then the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. His friend and colleague Charles Allbright wrote a lighthearted column called “Arkansas Traveler” that appeared on the same page of the newspaper as “Our Town” five days a week, making that page a staple for newspaper readers searching for relief from the daily gravity of news.
Richard Allin was born on October 6, 1930, in Helena (Phillips County), one of two sons of Richard Allin, who was a bookkeeper, and Dora Harper Allin, who taught the boys to use proper grammar. His older brother, John Maury Allin, became the twenty-third presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in America. Allin later would claim that he could not master the talents of other boys, like catching a softball or making a knife stand up in mumblety-peg, but he took to musical instruments.
Allin graduated from the Central High School in West Helena (Phillips County) in 1948 and received a bachelor’s degree in English literature at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, in 1952. He enrolled in naval officer school, got a commission, and spent almost two years in the Office of Naval Intelligence in the Pentagon and then as a watch officer aboard the heavy cruiser USS Des Moines. He decided he could be a journalist and applied at the Gazette and the Memphis Commercial Appeal. The latter hired him immediately, and he spent a couple of years as a roving reporter in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas—most of the time as a reporter in Blytheville (Mississippi County). The paper assigned him to Little Rock (Pulaski County) to be its correspondent at the Arkansas State Capitol, covering the Arkansas General Assembly and state politics.
Allin regularly hung out with reporters from the Gazette, often drinking beer and dining with them and with the newspaper’s managing editor, Arla Reed Nelson, at Breier’s, the gourmet downtown German restaurant on West Markham Street. Nelson thought Allin was hilarious, and when the Commercial Appeal ordered Allin to return to Memphis, Nelson offered him a job at the Gazette, which he took. Allin married Carol Cole of Paragould (Greene County), who had opened a bookstore in Little Rock.
Allbright had been writing the “Our Town” column, and when he moved to the Gazette’s editorial-page staff, Nelson asked Allin if he would like to write the column. Allin was tired of trying to meet the daily demands of his boss, William T. Shelton, the Gazette’s meticulous city editor, and leaped at the chance. Allbright later left the Gazette’s editorial page to write speeches and communication projects for Winthrop Rockefeller, and when he returned to the Gazette, he took over the “Arkansas Traveler” column. Allin and Allbright worked side by side for the next thirty years.
What Allin liked about the “Our Town” column was that he was not expected to expound on the great events of the day but rather on the mundane aspects of life that everyone encountered. Allin was as laidback and modest as his columns, which often dealt with parking meters, treeless streets, trains, comfort food, the clumsy dialects of Arkansas lawmakers, and people in the fictitious Arkansas towns of Wad and Gudge Creek. He played the tuba in the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra for many years until a new conductor decided he wanted exclusively professional—not amateur—musicians. Allin assented ruefully but bore no grudge.
As a reporter for both the Commercial Appeal and the Gazette, Allin had covered the Arkansas legislature and he was struck by the comical speech patterns of many lawmakers. He often mimicked them in his columns, and in 1983 he wrote a book about legislative pronunciations, illustrated by Gazette editorial cartoonist George Fisher, called The Southern Legislative Dictionary. It was published by Rose Publishing Company and revised and republished in 1984. He said legislators could never seem to pronounce properly the word “statistics”—it always came out “stastistics.”
Secretary of State Paul Riviere directed that Allin’s book not be sold in the Arkansas State Capitol gift shop. Arkansas legislators seemed to be entertained by the book, however, so Riviere relented and let the gift shop stock it. Hughes Rudd of ABC World News interviewed Allin about the book for the network’s daily news roundup. The University of Arkansas Press collected Allin’s satirical pieces on the twin towns of Gudge Creek and Wad and published them in 1989 as The Gudge Creek and Wad Chronicles.
So worried were the corporate owners of the Gazette in 1990 that the competing Arkansas Democrat might hire Allin and Charles Allbright and lure away their faithful readers that the columnists were given big raises and asked to sign ten-year contracts with the Gazette.
When the Wehco Media Group, which owned the Arkansas Democrat, acquired the Gazette from Gannett Corporation in October 1991 and the Gazette closed, the new format—the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette—honored Allin’s and Allbright’s contracts. Allin and Allbright retired in 2003.
Allin died on October 18, 2007. His ashes are interred in the University of the South Cemetery in Sewanee.
For additional information:
Allin, Richard. The Gudge Creek and Wad Chronicles. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1989.
Allin, Richard, with George Fisher. The Southern Legislative Dictionary: Words Used by Southern Legislators. Rev. ed. Little Rock: Rose Publishing Company, 1984.
“Longtime Newspaper Columnist Dead at 77.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 19, 2007, pp. 1B, 3B.
Richard Allin Collection. University of Central Arkansas Archives, Conway, Arkansas. Finding aid online at https://uca.edu/archives/m03-16-richard-allin-collection/ (accessed October 26, 2021).
Little Rock, Arkansas
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