Babe Ruth was once asked to describe his philosophy of life. He responded by saying I swing big, I miss big, and I live big. I think this accurately describes John Allisons approach to life. He lived big, devouring everything life had to offer. John was a commanding presence, quickly becoming the center of attention whenever he entered a room. He exuded self-confidence. He seemed indestructible. In high school he was our leader, our alpha male. On the football and baseball fields, he simply refused to lose, and by his senior year losses rarely happened. The football team went undefeated and the baseball team lost only 4 games the entire season, leading to San Diego CIF championships in both sports. He was the man.
We were friends, though not in the close, intimate sense he shared friendship with Bill Rainey, Jim Rupe, Larry Dubbs, Tom Whelan, and a few others. I was an interloper who moved to Crawford in the 10th grade. In those days, you had to earn your way into Johns confidence. He hated phonies and brownnosers. Once you were admitted into his circle, though, you had a loyal friend who would go to war for you. He was self-centered and could be abrupt and at times cruel in his teasing, but he could also take it, at least in those few instances when someone mustered the courage to toss a barb his way. He was not much interested in academics, or so it seemed to me. His world was the macho culture of the elite athlete. In this enclosed male culture, it wasnt cool to show emotions, talk about feelings, doubts and fears, or admit to vulnerabilities. John seemed totally self-assured, boundless in energy, and unconcerned about the uncertainties of adult life. Although we were friends, I did not understand the true measure of the man.
It wasnt until John stopped playing sports, finished his college education, and returned from teaching in Kenya that I reconnected with him. It was at this time that the real John Allison revealed himself to me. He would become my best friend and confidant for the next thirty years. We roomed together several dozen times over the years on Spring Training trips, golf rendezvous, fishing outings, and at his home in Hemet. We talked into the night about life, loves, politics, and whatever topic struck our fancy. It was at these sessions that I really got to know John. He was still unpretentious, forthright, honest, and opinionated, as I remembered him in high school, but there was far more to John than I had realized. He was thoughtful and introspective, and highly intelligent, with an encyclopedic knowledge of history, especially presidential history. John revealed a deep empathy for his fellow man, especially for those less fortunate than he. He cared little for money or material things, which may appear surprising given that he grew up with little of these. He was extremely generous, to his family as well as to others in his expansive circle. He worked 40 years to provide for his family and made certain they would be provided for after he died.
John was an unrepentant democrat, a rare breed indeed in our Crawford High circle as well as in largely Republican Hemet. At first this surprised me, but on reflection it made sense. John was an expression of the values inculcated in him by his, and his wifes families. His father, George, was a diehard Democrat, which he saw as the party of working people. Lindas parents were also life-long Democrats. They taught John to work hard and be proud of his working class roots. They taught him to treat people fairly and never act as if he were better than others. They inculcated in him the motto that everyone does better when everyone does better, a motto he lived by until the day he died. These influences inculcated in John a generosity of spirit that in his later years made him more tolerant and less judgmental of his fellow man, though his argumentative nature sometimes obscured this sentiment.
As I got to know John better, my respect and admiration for him grew. I have never known a person more comfortable with who he was, more comfortable in his own body. He never wanted to be anyone other than John Allison. What I admired most about him was that he didnt take himself too seriously, an alien notion among the university professors with whom Im associated. John concerned himself with only the truly important things in his life; everything else was fodder for light-hearted banter. He taught me to put things in perspective, to not sweat the small stuff. I cherished the times we spent together, not only for our many adventures and laughs, but for his influence in getting me to look more closely at myself. I found John a challenging thinker, acting out dramas of self, engaging with our times, using his life and his character to challenge my self-satisfaction. He was, in the classic Jeffersonian sense, a good citizen who ratcheted up the bar of what a good citizen should be.
Oh sure, John could be mouthy, and he loved to argue, espousing his views with the conviction of Zeus, but he did so in such a lighthearted, almost tongue-in-cheek, way that he disarmed even his harshest critics. It was difficult to tell when John was serious, putting you on, or using irony to make a point. He detested the Republican Party, but this did not prevent him from having close friendships with its fellow travelers. John had hundreds of friends. He especially liked hard-working, salt-of-the-earth people. I cant count the times hed say to me, I got this buddy in . . . .he had buddies seemingly everywhere, from England to Kenya, from Australia to Alaska, and throughout the continental US. When we talked about taking a trip, most recently to New York and Costa Rica, hed mention a buddy he knew there. These buddies were not just casual friends; they were always of the kind that would welcome him into their homes. John Allison made friends easily and when he did, it was for life. He was loyal and engaging, generous and benevolent; he was fun to be around.
John Allison died far too young, but he packed a lot of life into his 63 years. He lived life to the fullest, and, as Frank Sinatra sang, he did it his way. He touched many lives: family, friends, colleagues, students, ballplayers, bar friends, working people. As he had made those with whom he played on his teams better, he made those he befriended better. His self-confidence made us feel better about ourselves. His honesty and straight-forwardness made us less inclined to be pretentious or self-promoting. His generosity of spirit made us more giving and tolerant. His remembrances and engaging personality helped us connect with our pasts. His sense of justice made us pursue fairer outcomes. His humanity helped us see a morality beyond ourselves. His far too early passing has made us, I believe, more aware of our own mortality, and I suspect we will all be more focused now on our diets and exercise routines.
I would be remiss not to say a few words about the extraordinary bonds that have formed among the circle of Crawford graduates who were friends back in high school, many of whom are here today. The fact that many of us have kept in touch over the years is rare, indeed. I know other 1962 graduates from other high schools, and even some Crawford graduates from earlier and later years, and they do not share the lasting friendships that we do. Even former teachers and coaches have kept in touch. The feelings we have for each other are very special. I dont think our bond is a product of nostalgia or the sentimentality that comes with aging; rather, it is, I believe, a product of the kind of people we were. We were of very strong character, with solid values for hard work, responsibility, decency, community, striving, and remembrance. We believed strongly in ourselves and what we could accomplish if we set our minds to a goal. These values served us well on the playing fields and in later life, where we have found great success, in business and finance, management, education, public service, and other pursuits. We were exemplary mothers and fathers. No one more embodied these values than John Allison. His life story is our story. From modest backgrounds, we achieved a great deal and now enjoy lives of far greater comfort than our parents. And through it all, like John, we have not forgotten from where we came and who was important and meaningful in our lives. This is what made John different, and I think what explains our bonds that endure.
So John is now in heaven reunited with George, who sadly left him when John was only 23-years old. I can hear Georges greeting, though, knowing George, in far more colorful language than described here:
Well son, its good to see you again. Its been a long time. Congratulations on your athletic achievements, though I must say I expected them. What Im most proud of is the kind of person you were. You did things right, treated people fairly, worked hard, shared what you earned, and provided for your family. You were a good father and husband. You were a friend to many and a pain in the rear to Republicans. Welcome, we have a lot of catching up to do.
Goodbye, old friend. Your passing has left a void in the lives of many people. But take heart, your legacy will live on in each and every one of those you touched. For me, you will live on in my heart and in my spirit.