Tribute: Larry Allison, Always The Professional

7:45pm | Reporting by Don Jergler A news veteran whose Long Beach reporting roots literally date back to before the Queen Mary arrived in the city has died.

Larry Allison, who began his career in journalism more than 50 years ago at the Press-Telegram, died on Sunday at the age of 77 of complications from a battle with pneumonia.

“Beginning as a reporter at the Independent Press-Telegram in 1957 and working in virtually every department in the paper through editor, Allison was, until his final days as editor of the Editorial Page, a voice of the community and the voice of the paper,” the Press-Telegram website stated on Monday.

Services and arrangements have yet to be announced.

Allison’s reporting and editing career predated many historic Long Beach events and icons. He was the paper’s top reporter covering the arrival of the Queen Mary in Long Beach in 1967. Allison could talk with authority about long-past events in Long Beach to younger reporters about stories he covered as a reporter in the paper’s heyday. He saw the newspaper through several changes to its staff and alterations and additions to the historic Press-Telegram building on Pine Avenue and Sixth Street, including its move to the Arco Towers on Ocean Avenue in downtown Long Beach. 

Those who knew him described Allison as a patient man, who was willing to share his time, advice and experiences in the industry, though he maintained a humble demeanor.

“My fondest memories of the Press-Telegram will always be the time I spent in Larry’s office overlooking the noisy corner of Sixth and Pine,” said former Press-Telegram reporter and editor John Canalis, who is now with the Los Angeles Times organization as editor of Times Community News South. “He freely gave me advice on every subject and helped guide my career in what has certainly been an anxious decade for newspapers.”

Crime reporter Tracy Manzer, considered one of the veterans on the Press-Telegram staff, remembered Allison for his editorial integrity and getting the facts right.

“Before he wrote editorials about local issues he often talked to the reporter whose beat was connected to the issue to ensure accuracy,” Manzer said. “I even remember him asking me to read a few of his editorials before print to make sure the details were correct. I can't say there are a lot of executives who would have that level of respect or treat a staffer as an equal in the way Larry did.”

In fact, Allison’s editorials were one area of his professional and personal life in which he may have made a few enemies. As is typical of a daily newspaper, his editorial columns often supported one candidate against another, criticized city hall or were hard-hitting commentaries on groups and organizations within the city that were not well received by their subjects.

“I have always been impressed with Larry’s kindness, understanding and intelligence on just about every local, state and federal issue,” said Long Beach City Manager Pat West. “He was well-reasoned, while speaking from the heart. He wrote what was on his mind, and his undeniable sense of right and wrong set an example for us all. He had the ability to change minds with his persuasive writing, and often reminded us all to show compassion to the less fortunate.”   

Many who worked at the Press-Telegram for a number of years spoke of Allison as if he were a big brother, or even father figure. 

“I'm still in shock,” said Karen Robes Meeks, who covers downtown Long Beach and business for the paper. “I spoke to Larry just before I went on vacation and we were talking about fun places to go to in New York and he asked about my husband, who has been recovering from an injury. That was Larry. He genuinely cared about you. And he always gave great advice about writing and life.”

For Canalis, Allison’s role was both as a father figure and mentor.

“His fingerprints are all over my career,” Canalis said. “It’s cliché to say someone was like a father to you, but in this case it’s true. I have a dad, but Larry will always be my newspaper father.”

John Futch, once a fixture at the paper like Allison, who served in several capacities, including at the managing editor and as its city editor, worked closely with him across several decades.
“You can talk all you want about Larry's long and distinguished career as a journalist but the thing that keeps coming to the fore as I talk to friends who knew him is Larry the human being, the gentleman, the constant friend,” Futch said. “Larry was always there when you are having a bad (or good) day, ready to talk in that gentle, incisive way that he had. He was never too busy to listen, to commiserate to encourage.”

One Long Beach fixture that is now, or has been, the place of many former Press-Telegram staffers is the Port of Long Beach. Despite the presence at the organization of many of his friends and former colleagues, several of Allison’s editorials took pro as well as con stances on the myriad news topics that emerge from the giant trade center.

Art Wong, the assistant director of communications and public information officer for the Port of Long Beach, dealt with Allison in that capacity and as a former colleague. 

“I worked with Larry for about a dozen years, when I was a reporter at the Press-Telegram, and now for another dozen years as the PIO for the Port,” Wong said. “I’ve always had the highest regard for Larry, as the best of the best journalists. He was such a gentleman, so respectful of everyone’s views. He was extremely insightful about the important issues facing Long Beach.”

Others in the business community came to respect Allison’s editorial judgment, even if they occasionally disagreed with it.
“I knew Larry Allison for 17 years and talked to him on numerous occasions and I always found him to be first a gentleman, always anxious to listen to your point of view and even if he disagreed on the editorial page he appreciated your point of view,” said Randy Gordon, president and CEO of the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce.

The news business by its nature is self-critical and broadly interconnected. Often staff members of one newsroom know, have worked with, and have opinions about staffers in other newsrooms. 

Allison’s former counterpart at the San Gabriel Valley Newspapers, Steve Scauzillo, former opinion pages editor for that organization and now the group’s environment writer, remembered Allison as a respected colleague and fierce competitor.
“We would share editorials on state and national topics,” Scauzillo said. “He was an expert on what was happening at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. I'd often pick up those editorials. Larry's editorials were often written with flair. They were not ponderous nor bland. Instead, they were lively and at times, amusing. He had the right touch for the right topic.”

Scauzillo’s editorials were often pitted against Allison’s at Los Angeles Press Club Awards over the years. 

“Our newspapers would compete,” he said. “Finally, one of my editorials beat one of his for a top prize. I remember thinking it meant more to me to beat Larry, because he was so good at what he did. He saw me there and graciously extended his hand in congratulations. Always the professional.”

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