Jean Allard, the first female vice president at the University of Chicago and a longtime Hyde Park resident, died Sunday, Jan. 29, at the Buckingham Pavilion nursing and rehabilitation center in Chicago, following a long illness. She was 87.
Allard, JD’53, who served as Vice President for Business and Finance from 1972-76, was known for breaking gender barriers at the University, in the legal profession and in the business world. She also held a strong commitment to mentoring other women and providing civic leadership.
“She always moved by example,” said Judy Barnes, MBA’78, executive assistant to Allard during her role as VP for Business and Finance. Barnes refers to Allard as her first mentor and a lifelong friend. “You could always learn by just watching and listening to her. She really helped me understand how to effectively manage, as a female in a male-dominated environment, to get things done in a very elegant fashion without a lot of fanfare.”
Strong UChicago Foundations
Born Marion Jean McGuire in Trenton, Mo., in 1924, Allard first came to UChicago as a psychology doctoral student after earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Culver-Stockton College and Washington University in St. Louis, respectively.
After taking a class at the Law School, she switched her focus of study — and excelled in her new field. Allard served as managing editor of the University of Chicago Law Review and won the American Bar Association’s national student moot court competition for best brief and second best oral argument.
One of only two female graduates in the class of 1953, Allard had trouble finding a law firm that would hire a woman, according to her niece, Patricia John, AB’81, MBA’89. She became a research associate to the husband-wife Law School team of Karl Llewellyn and Soia Mentschikoff. Mentschikoff, a pioneering female legal scholar, became an important mentor to Allard. Within three years, Allard became an assistant dean under Edward H. Levi.
Leaving UChicago in 1958, Allard worked as an antitrust lawyer for several years before becoming general counsel and secretary at Maremont Corporation, an auto parts company. After 10 years, Allard returned to UChicago at the request of Levi—by then president of the University—to be his VP for Business and Finance.
“She always understood and loved the University of Chicago but also understood there were areas that needed to change and move forward,” said Barnes, calling Allard’s intelligence “inimitable.”
In her role, Allard worked on everything from creating the University’s first patent policy and revamping its leasing policy, to overseeing the comptroller’s office and beautifying the Quadrangles.
In fact, in 1976 at her farewell party, Allard’s business and finance staff made a lighthearted nod to her many responsibilities, presenting her with one of the trashcans she had been tasked with selecting for the Quads.
Breaking Glass Ceilings
Allard’s son, John Allard, fondly remembers her love of their Colorado summer home and skiing out west, passions she passed on to him.
“My mom would drink her coffee on a big boulder where us little kids couldn’t get up there to bug her. She would relish that time.”
While family and friends reminisce about her love of cooking, flower arranging and entertaining—including throwing herself birthday parties in places like Paris and the Adler Planetarium—Allard is best known for the gender barriers she shattered in the legal and business worlds.
In 1984, she told the Hyde Park Herald of her drive: “If you are not in over your head, then you are not really productive."
In 1976, Allard left UChicago to become the first female partner at Sonnenschein Carlin Nath & Rosenthal (now SNR Denton). She stayed until 1991, when she became president of Chicago’s Metropolitan Planning Council, although she remained ‘of counsel’ at Sonnenschein.
While at Sonnenschein, Allard mentored Valerie Jarrett, now a senior adviser to President Obama. Jarrett, formerly the Vice-Chair of the Board of Trustees at the University of Chicago and Chair of the Board of Trustees at the University of Chicago Medicine, described Allard’s approach to the Chicago Tribune for Allard’s obituary. “Not only is she a role model for her extraordinary accomplishments,” Jarrett said of Allard, “but she’s a role model for how to treat people when you’ve reached the pinnacle of success.”
Allard continuously faced her pioneer status with grace and humor, according to niece Patricia John. When she became partner at Sonnenschein, Allard felt a duty to play golf with her male colleagues who had canceled their membership at a male-only golf club and switched to a different club that admitted women. At another time, as one of the first women members of the Commercial Club of Chicago (along with Hanna Holborn Gray, the first female president of UChicago), Allard’s niece accompanied her to the club’s annual father-son Christmas party, at which they were the only two women in attendance.
“She was always proud when she cut through barriers like that, but she never let it tear at her. She didn’t like it, but she dealt with it,” said John. “I used to think she ate glass for breakfast.”
Service to the City
In 1979, Allard helped found the Chicago Network, an organization of Chicago’s most respected professional women. She also was the first female board member at Commonwealth Edison (now Exelon) and Marshall Field & Company. In addition, Allard sat on the boards of LaSalle National Bank, AM International and USF&G Corporation.
“I volunteered for work a lot, which I think is one of the ways you become a more important person in any institution,” she told Today’s Chicago Woman in 1988, when it named her its Woman of the Year. In 1987, the Chicago Tribune selected her as one of Chicago’s 10 most powerful women.
“I’m not afraid of standing up to change things,” she told the Tribune in 1987.
Among many other civic leadership roles, Allard continued to be active at the University through the Law School Alumni Association, the Harris School Visiting Committee, the GSB Council and the advisory board to the Women’s Business Group.
“My mom reached many summits in her life,” said John Allard, her son with first husband Robert Allard, DB’50, JD’58.
Her son John and a granddaughter survive Allard. Her second husband, David Gooder, preceded her in death in 2006.
A memorial is being planned.