He was Lake Highlands’ most vocal cheerleader. Then he drove off in an RV

Photos by Danny Fulgencio

Two months before former City Councilman Jerry Allen left office, he bought an RV. Then he purchased something else, something he decided he wouldn’t mention to his wife, Patti.

The retired banker bought a motorcycle. 

Allen had a three-week vacation before he finished his second term serving District 10, which encompasses Lake Highlands. Patti was going out-of-town to visit her parents. So he packed up the RV and drove to Alaska. Unconcerned he hadn’t ridden in 20 years, he picked up his new Yamaha 125 trail bike at a shop along the way.

His second night in The Last Frontier, he took the bike down a gravel road in a town of 2,000 people.

 “To make a long story short, I took a corner probably too fast,” he says. “I lost control of it. I ended up fracturing my collarbone. I broke five ribs, and I punctured my lung.”

Allen hobbled back to the RV. He took a pain pill, sipped a beer and fell asleep. That morning, Allen went to a medical clinic that put him on an emergency flight to Juneau. After receiving treatment, he was flown to Dallas for additional hospitalization to inflate his lung.

Allen didn’t tell Patti about the excursion’s mishap until she came home. She would be upset regardless, he says, so why make her worry?

“She did all right,” he says. “It’s all about style and presentation. That’s all it is, style and presentation.”

“Say what you will about Jerry Allen, but he’s one brave dude,” reads the headline of an Advocate article published in 2008. It was Allen’s first term as councilman, and he was leading a contentious meeting about the construction of a retirement community at Skillman Street and Church Road. Neighbors complained Allen was Lake Highlands’ version of Judas, the type of politician that prioritized development over preserving the neighborhood’s small-town charm. 

Allen thought of himself as Lake Highlands’ biggest cheerleader. He was an ardent supporter of Richardson ISD who vowed to increase pride in the area’s schools. Allen even doled out car decals with local elementary schools’ logos.

He teamed up with community prosecutors to improve living conditions at apartment complexes rather than razing them. The most media attention Allen received was his crusade against predatory lending at cash loan stores. 

Whether neighbors favored or disapproved of Allen, they recognized the politician in the black suit who spoke in a southern drawl and often called his peers “ol’ boy” or “ol’ girl.”

They didn’t expect him to swap his trademarked suit for a T-shirt so quickly after leaving City Hall. For Allen, it was the pragmatic choice. He says his last day as councilman is no different from when he quit playing basketball 50 years ago. 

Allen practiced at least 360 days a year starting in eighth grade. He didn’t date until he was 17 because he worried girls were distracting. Then, in 1968, Lake Highlands won the state championship. He gave up balling the following day.  

“I don’t want to be the old man that’s always giving advice about what to do,” he says. “It’s their time. It’s their shot. In my mind, the best thing to do was enjoy myself these last few years. That’s not to say that at any point in time, I can’t pick [the ball] up and bounce it just as good as before.”

Allen disconnected from local politics in a 170-square-foot RV with “everything but a washer and dryer.” The Allens’ travel schedule revolves around the weather. They visit state parks in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas in November and December. Afterward they trek to the Hill Country and return to Dallas in time for March Madness. At the end of April, they follow the warming weather through Canada to Alaska.

Allen says the trips are almost impossible to describe and then rattles off a list of favorite memories: Patti’s determination to walk outside during a dust storm in Death Valley, driving down the picturesque Cassiar Highway in British Columbia, exploring small towns in Nova Scotia. 

He documents the trips with short videos he records on his cellphone. He’s saving them for days when he won’t be able to travel as much. 

“Not every moment is fun, but during the day you will have memories that burn in your memory for sure,” he says. 

PBS documentaries sparked Allen’s adoration for northern North America. As a college student, he and his best friend drove a 1964 Volkswagen camper through the Rockies to Canada and back. 

The sound of the RV on the road is peaceful, Allen says. He knows it sounds cliché, but it’s taught him to appreciate small details, like the way the sun hits the road or the layers of rock in a mountain. 

“You become more amazed at the world itself,” he says. “You’re looking at it like an 8-year-old or 6-year-old with that wonderment.”

“When you’re out there, and you’re at some spot, you’ll see things because you’ve really gotten away from the world,” he adds. “It’s so busy. Well, my world is not busy.”