James Elbert Allen Sr., 88, died of heart failure, Jan. 11, 2004 at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital. He lived in Potomac.
Allen was President and Chairman of the Board of the former Henry B. Gilpin Company headquartered in Washington, D. C.
Allen, a native of Largo, Florida, hitchhiked to Washington, D. C. in 1933 from his family dairy farm with ten dollars in his pocket. He worked from the ground up starting as a pharmaceutical salesman in 1936 for Muth Bros. & Co., joining Gilpin in 1940. He became president of Gilpin in 1957 after sixteen years with one year out during World War II serving in the United States Navy as a pharmacist’s mate at Bethesda Naval Hospital.
He attended Southeastern University. In 1957 he was featured in The Washington Post as a “Washington Success Story.”
Armed with his favorite motto: “Life’s real happiness comes from the joy of making things better,” Allen elevated Gilpin to be among the first distributors in the country to assay and standardize drugs. Gilpin was the first in America to manufacture tinted face powder with a neopolitan violet fragrance, known as “Talcolette” and developed the first insecticide to include pyrethrum, known as “Black Flag.” Gilpin was one of the first to install a mechanical conveyor line for filling orders. Allen’s innovations in inventory control and data processing are the basis for most pharmaceutical warehousing standards today. In 1980 he was honored with the Timothy Patrick Barry Jr. Award, presented for unfailing good sportsmanship in the conduct of his personal and business life.
His “Getting Down To Brass Tacks” program at Gilpin was motivated by his love of people and knack of inspiring others to see the importance of getting a job done. If something went wrong, he felt it was more important to talk about who was going to fix it than who was to blame. Every new Gilpin employee was presented with a “Brass Tack” pin to wear. After two years, the employee was awarded a Gilpin service pin that embodied the Gilpin “G” logo and the Gilpin “brass tacks” concept. Each five-year interval thereafter, the employee received a precious stone on a new pin, and ultimately reached a white gold field of diamonds
Allen wrote the Gilpin Creed in 1959, published by the Newcomen Society. In 1977, Allen was recognized by the Newcomen Society in North America for his contribution to the free enterprise system and for Gilpin’s growth and development in distribution services to the health care industry. His business affiliations include past president of the National Wholesale Druggists’ Association; the National Drug Trade Conference; the National Association of Wholesalers; and Distribution Services, Inc. He was director of Alliance Laboratories, Inc. and a member of the American Pharmaceutical Association; National Association of Retail Druggists; D.C., Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, Prince Georges and Montgomery County Pharmaceutical Associations; National Distribution Council, U.S. Department of Commerce; Distribution Advisory Council of the U.S. Bureau of the Budget; Resources Management Planning Task Group for Health Resources; and Advisory Board of American Security and Trust Company.
Allen’s civic affiliations include president, All Saints’ Foundation, Inc., All Saint’s Episcopal Church, Chevy Chase, Maryland where he was a past member of the Vestry; Member, The Newcomen Society in North America; Board of Visitors, Franklin and Marshall College; Trustee and past president of Kiwanis Foundation of the District of Columbia.
An avid and enthusiastic horseman, Allen grew up riding a horse to school. He was active in equestrian events at Rock Creek Stables, lending his support to their Therapeutic Riding Program attended by former First Lady Nancy Reagan. Mrs. Reagan sent a letter that remains part of Allen’s files quoting her husband’s saying, “nothing improves the inside of a man as much as the outside of a horse.”
Allen was a member of The American Carriage Association. A collector and driver of horsedrawn carriages and wagons, Allen owned over twenty fine specimens among his favorites, an English phaeton once owned by Evelyn Walsh McLean of Hope Diamond fame. His affinity for horses and all their trappings earned him numerous ribbons, awards and trophies for dressage and best turn-out, among them the Staples Trophy from the Strawberry Hill Races in Richmond.
In 1959, Mr. Allen purchased a farm in Bedford County, Penn. that he restored with deluxe accommodations for both human and equine inhabitants. His family enjoyed the past Thanksgiving with him there.
Allen was a member of Metropolitan Club, University Club, International Club, Capitol Hill Club, and the Kiwanis Club of D.C., where he was known for his ability to deliver an invocation or benediction upon request.
His first wife, Virginia McComas Allen, died in 1983 after 43 years of marriage.
Survivors include his wife of 19 years, Reid Fussell Allen of Potomac, his sons James E. Allen Jr., of Montgomery Village, Richard A. Allen of Dayton, step-daughter, Sharon Allen Gilder of Gaithersburg, step-son, Thomas R. Allen of Montgomery Village, six grandchildren and four great-children.