Remembering a longtime leader

Mar. 06, 2014 @ 08:38 AM

There was a certain poignant coincidence in the juxtaposition of a story in The Herald-Sun this week and the death of a longtime civic and business leader.

Monday morning, Ray Gronberg reported on the recent election of new leadership to the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People. That same morning, F. V. “Pete” Allison Jr. passed away at the age of 91.

Mr. Allison had been a longtime member of the Durham Committee, serving as treasurer for many years and at one point as chairman. His wife, Lavonia Allison, chaired the committee for many years, stepping down just a few years ago. The couple’s leadership spanned some of the committee’s most active and influential years.

Mr. Allison’s influence stretched far beyond the committee, one of the city’s three high-profile political-action groups. He was a major figure in Durham for decades, most prominently as president, chief executive officer and chairman of the Mutual Community Savings Bank.

Mr. Allison was a member of that generation, sadly diminishing as age takes its toll, which spans the era of Jim Crow segregation, the civil rights movement that finally brought it to a close, and the expanded possibilities that ensued from those developments.

When he joined what eventually would become Mutual Savings in 1953, most doors in Durham were shut to African-Americans.  The bank, which he transitioned from a savings and loan to a community savings bank, was among the financial-services and other businesses that gave rise to a prosperous black professional class in Durham rare in southern communities.

While never elected to public office, he exerted substantial influence in Durham politics through his role on the Durham Committee, and often was sought by local and state leaders for advice on appointments. He himself served on the RDU Airport Authority and the N. C. Education Assistance Authority.

He was remembered Monday not only for his contributions but his demeanor and commitment.
State Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr., D-Durham, called him “somebody with good political instincts, a good, savvy businessman but most important a principled leader who was able to operate firmly with what I would refer to as a ‘rubber hammer.’”

Ralph Hunt, a former state senator and the new chair of the Durham Committee, called him the “conscience of the community.”

“You could depend on him in most any way you would call upon him to be involved,” Hunt said.

McKissick also called Mr. Allison “a champion of economic development” who arranged mortgages and business loans “for people who might have had difficulties and challenges with more traditional institutions.”

Cleary, for decades Mr. Allison served his adopted home of Durham ably and won the respect and affection of many colleagues and fellow residents. He will be missed and remembered.