By TONY EIERDAM
She was many things to many people.
She was a loving and caring mother who enjoyed most watching her kids play sports, a dedicated wife to her husband, a hard-working civil servant and a friend to many.
But to most, she was The Chief.
The Index’s 2013 Woman of the Year is the late Mineral Wells Fire Department Chief Robin Allen, who passed away unexpectedly this past September.
Robin was more than just a fire chief. She was a pioneer having been one of the first female fire chiefs in the state. She was a hero to young girls who excelled in what is commonly known as “a man’s world.”
Allen, who went to school at Mineral Wells High School and had worked in fire/EMS service here for 30 years, was more than well-respected among her peers.
City manager Lance Howerton explained what Allen meant to the community.
“I think Robin exemplifies the best of many worlds,” he said. “She was a wonderful employee, she was a public servant at heart and had a great heart for this community.
“She was a wonderful person on an individual level, she was a wonderful member of her family and she was definitely known as a person who put her family above everything else. She was essentially a good, caring person, and if you look at the overall qualities that Robin demonstrated over the years in whatever role she played, she was exemplary in all of those.
“Those are rare qualities to find. Oftentimes, someone may be a good employee or a good family member or may be good at this or
that, but looking at Robin from the entirety of who she was and what she was, she excelled in all of those areas. There are not many people that you find who do that. She was one of those people. I believe that was why she was so special to so many different people whether at work, church, school or out in the community.
Ronda VanNatta was Allen’s secretary for all 10 years Allen was the MWFD Chief. VanNatta, who has worked at the MWFD for 23 years, said Allen was more than just her boss.
“Robin was a hard worker and had a lot of special talents,” she said. “She did a good job as a firefighter and especially as a paramedic. She was so compassionate with people and so good at her job. It was second nature for her to do it. Robin was a great supervisor, and she was easy to work for.
“She was always understanding, but firm when she had to be. Most of the time she was a pleasure to be around, but she could also get onto to you.
“Family was the top priority to her. She told us our families came first, and with Robin her family came first as well.
“Everyone knew Robin was qualified in what she did, and nobody questioned any of her qualifications. Robin was the first woman firefighter in MWFD, and she was also one of the first women to become Chief. She paved the way for all of the other female firefighters. Robin was one of the strongest, toughest little women (Allen stood at 4-11) I had ever seen. She was tough physically, mentally and spiritually. She had all of those good characteristics.”
Allen got the most pleasure watching her children Bryson, Bethany and Braxton play sports. Allen, along with husband Garry, a DPS trooper, were fixtures over the years at the MWHS and MWJH games.
Allen was close friends with Bethany’s softball coach, David Tarver. Tarver said he began a relationship with the Allen family when her kids were in Little league baseball and softball.
Tarver said he could not agree more with the choice of Allen as Woman of the Year.
“There are too many reasons why I feel Robin is an excellent choice for ‘Woman of the Year,’” Tarver said. “I considered Robin a saint – she cared about other people more than she cared about herself. She did things for other people before she would do anything for herself.
“She would be at games and would talk to the other parents, to other people’s kids and to our kids. She was always helping others, and she was willing to do anything for anybody.
“There were a lot of people in the community that looked up to and respected Robin, especially young girls, and Robin was always there for them.
“I met Robin and Garry,” Tarver continued, “when I started being involved with the little league programs here. Bethany came up playing softball I was out there at the little league fields helping her and the other girls, and I started building a relationship with the Allen family.”
Tarver and Allen were seen having conversations at many MWHS sporting events. Tarver said he misses those conversations.
“Robin was a great friend, and oftentimes we talked about life in general,” Tarver said. “We would talk about normal, everyday life stuff. We talked about our families, jobs, kids or whatever. And of course, we would mix sports into the conversation.
“Just the kind of talk you do with any of your friends. She was just a great person, and there were many ties she would confide in me or I would confide in her. Most of the time when we talked it was positive conversations about random stuff. And there were other times where either of us might be having a bad day and we would talk it out to get things off our chests.”
Howerton said naming Allen as MWFD Chief had nothing to do with Mineral Wells wanting to be one of the first fire departments to hire a female chief.
“Robin was our interim chief before we hired her as permanent chief,” Howerton said.”We did interview other candidates, but after that I appointed her as full time Fire Chief. We had an interview panel vote on the matter, and she was the unanimous choice. She was the best candidate for that position.
“Robin was a pioneer. Being a female in that business, and being small of stature could have been a draw back, but she was big in heart and very tenacious. When she put her mind to doing something it was going to get done. So, even though she was small in size, and even though she was a female, she overcame all of that and proved herself to be worthy – really, even beyond worthy – for the positions that she held in our department.
“From my perspective, and from those who served on the interview panel, I don’t think the fact that she was a woman ever came into play.
“We were not trying to make any kind of a statement –either on a personal, community or organizational level – about hiring a female (to be chief).
“In my opinion,” Howerton continued, “it was just Robin happened to be a woman, but the more important aspect was that she was an excellent firefighter and an excellent leader.
“She also had a proven track record in this department, in this community, and that was very important. Any time you hire anybody, it’s always a question of how are they going to do in that new position.
“It is a risk when you bring somebody in from the outside that may not be a part of the community. Robin certainly had the support of the people who worked with her. They respected her, they knew that she knew the business and that she was fair, so really it was just one of those kind of situations where she was just the natural choice.
“She was the best person for the job because she had proven that over a long period of time working in this setting. There is no such thing as a ‘no brainer’ when you are hiring people, but Robin was the obvious choice because she had done well and proven herself and showed that she had the talent and capability, along with the qualifications and intangibles, to do that job.
“We were one of the first departments in the state of Texas to hire a female fire chief, but really, that had noting to do with why we hired her.
“Again, she was just the absolute best person for that job.
“In my view, she was the obvious person for the job, bar none.”
Tarver related a story that demonstrates Allen did care more about others than she did herself.
“I had knee surgery in 2010, and my wife went to work and my daughter went to day care, and I was sitting at home alone in my knee brace and Robin came by and rang the doorbell,” Tarver recalled. “She came in just to check on me. She wanted to see the knee, and she sat and talked with me until I had to go to physical therapy.
“But what struck me was she came over in the middle of her busy day to check on a friend.
“That’s the kind of person Robin was. She was thinking about other people. She knew I was home by myself and she wanted to make sure everything was OK. She was just very thoughtful.”
Tarver explained that while Allen always wanted to be involved with what her kids did in the classroom and the ball fields and courts, she was not what you would consider a “helicopter parent.”
“The qualities that she had that made her such a good person was breed into every part of her life,” he said. “She did her job well, she was always involved at school, and anytime there was anything going on with her kids at the school she was there whether it was athletes, awards assemblies or in the classroom.
“If any of her children were having problems in the classroom she would up at the school talking to teachers or principals or whoever.
“She was making sure her kids were in line and doing the right things.
“If there was something that was wrong, she just wanted to know how to fix it.
“She wasn’t necessarily up at school defending her kids or raising a big stink, she was at school trying to figure out what the situation was and where to go from there. She was trying to identify the problem. It was never a negative thing with her.
“If there was a negative, she wanted to fix the problem and move forward in a positive way. She was just a great person – and I could say that over and over again – and everything with Robin was about helping others and doing the right things and making sure the right things were in place.
She had genuine care and concern for people in general.”
VanNatta said Allen was not afraid of any situation or any human being.
She was, VanNatta recalled, afraid of just one thing.
“Robin was terrified of snakes,” VanNatta said with a bit of a chuckle. “Everyone knew not to tease Robin with (fake) snakes. That’s the one thing she was afraid of. She wouldn’t have been scared of a bear or any animal, but she was scared of snakes.
“I remember Robin had gone home for lunch one day and she called my husband, Jerry, and asked him to come to her house to get rid of a snake. She told him there was a snake in her house.
‘So when we get there she is in the garage peaking through the window into the house.
“So Jerry asks Robin where the snake was. Robin’s dining room was on the other side of the house, and she pointed to the door that faced the back yard in the dining room.
“He said he didn’t see anything, and Robin said ‘there is a snake on that door.’
“So we go into the dining room and it’s head was sticking through the door from the outside about five feet high on the door.
“The snake was actually outside, but his head had stuck through the slight opening of the door and the wall.
“It’s body was outside but his head was in the crevice looking inside and it was trying to get in. But Robin was outside in the garage looking in through the blind. She was not going to go back in. We all started laughing, but it wasn’t funny to Robin.”
Howerton said he did not know anyone who had anything negative to say about Allen.
“If you talk to people in all of those walks of life and all of those environments, virtually everyone you could talk to would have great things to say about Robin,” Howerton said. “That is kind of a rare person in my opinion. Robin could relate to people in all those different levels and have that ability to excel and be personable in all of those different realms.
“And Robin was the kind of person who could do that.
“She was multidimensional. There were many aspects as to who Robin was and what she was, and she was excellent in all of those realms.
“She was just a wonderful person.”
Like Tarver, Howerton said he misses his conversations with Allen. He also stated Allen knew what to do, work wise, in any situation.
“When Robin and I talked it was usually about one or two things,” Howerton said. “One was sports – her kids were heavily involved in sports – and in that same vein she would talk about her kids.
“But we had a lot of funny conversations that we had, a lot of personal conversations we had, but usually it would be centered around our families.
“I really miss Robin and especially talking with her.
“She was the kind of person who was very reliable, you knew she would take care of what ever the situation was, and she worked very well in her management role.
“Robin never needed guidance – she knew what to do and how to do it – and she knew what was right and she knew what was wrong.
“And she knew how to do the right thing. That is always very important. I never had to question what she was doing or why.
“Robin is certainly missed around here – and I think by everybody whose lives she touched in the community. She had a very positive personality, a very strong personality, she was a good leader and most certainly one of the faces of Mineral Wells.
“And another good thing as well is it is always good to have someone in an organization like her who people know, and a lot of people knew her. She was kind of a contact person in the community. Robin was very approachable and was a reference point to a lot of people in our community
for our organization.
“Maybe people didn’t know who to go to with a problem, but they knew Robin so they would call her.
“She was a good intermediary and a really good ambassador for this organization out in the community.
“That’s a wonderful thing to have is people like Robin who are highly regarded in the organization and also highly regarded out in the community who can really kind of be a bridge from the monolithic ‘city’ with the community. Robin, having that kind of connection in the community, was a great thing.
“That is something that we certainly miss.”