Reflections on a trailblazer: a tribute to Jean Allard - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Reflections on a trailblazer: a tribute to Jean Allard

(from left): Dan Toll, Pam Walter, Jean Allard, and MarySue Barrett at a 1996 MPC tribute to Jean, who served as our president for five years.

“Many able but insecure people often try to pull up the corporate and professional ladders they have climbed, just after reaching the pinnacle. Jean did just the opposite. Out of a careless generosity, she has always gone to extraordinary lengths to open doors of opportunity and advancement to talented young women and men along the way. Indeed, it is evident that doing so has been one of the chief joys of her life.” 

I love this sentiment, penned by my friend and former Metropolitan Planning Council Board Vice Chair Elmer Johnson, on the occasion of a 1996 tribute to Jean Allard. It captures her vibrant and inimitable spirit—which many people have fondly reflected upon since Jean passed away Jan. 29. MPC spearheaded the '96 event to honor Jean as she concluded her five years as our president. It generated an outpouring from the many people she touched who wanted to share their gratitude.

MPC’s Board hired me to succeed Jean, something I couldn’t have envisioned when I met her several years earlier. As she did with countless others, Jean  found me, while I was a member of Mayor Richard M. Daley’s team, nominated me for a fellowship sponsored by the International Women’s Forum, and quickly became a mentor and friend.

Each time I share Jean’s story with a colleague or student, I am again bowled over: sole woman in her University of Chicago law school class; corporate general counsel; University of Chicago’s first woman vice president for business and finance; first female partner at Sonnenschein; founder of The Chicago Network; first woman on the boards of Commonwealth Edison, Marshall Field's, and LaSalle Bank; one of the first two women to join the Chicago Club; and on and on.

Indeed, Jean did not pull up the ladder; she secured it so others could follow and helped recruit more women to join those corporate boards. Today, SNR Denton (successor to Sonnenschein, Nath and Rosenthal) has 62 female partners. And numerous civic organizations—including MPC—continue to thrive because she recruited her friends to ensure our futures. 

Jean made things happen across this city and region. She also knew how to have fun. Well before the invention of Facebook, she “friended” eclectic groups of people, inviting them to share a meal and good wine at her stunning Hyde Park apartment overlooking Jackson Park. Her friends were African-American, Latino, Asian, and white, spanning business, community organizing, and the arts, simply because she enjoyed their varied backgrounds and passions. This was one of the many lessons she passed onto me: the value of forging personal bonds with people we meet professionally, leading to unexpected and often wonderful outcomes.

I feel loss at the news of Jean’s passing, but I also feel her energy, can see that twinkle in her eye, and hear her hearty laugh as she soaked up every experience life threw her way. Her story will continue to inspire residents of this region to question those who say it can’t be done, push through barriers that block progress, and prioritize time with friends and family, celebrating life.


  1. 1. James M. Ratcliffe from 5536 Dorchester Avenue, 60637 on February 17, 2012

    Warmest thanks for your lovely, and accurate, tribute to Jean Allard. She was for some years a colleague, and for decades, a good friend. Sui generis, indeed.

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