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Royal Allen, promoted health with ‘First Ladies’ church program

Royal Allen | Provided photo

Royal Allen was a versatile marketing executive who promoted consumer products and services ranging from yogurt and antiperspirant to American Airlines, as well as improved health through free screenings at black churches.

The First Ladies Health Initiative offers medical tests at churches by partnering with the “First Ladies,” or pastors’ wives, from many different African-American denominations. Since its start in Chicago seven years ago, more than 200,000 people have been screened. It’s expanded to 155 churches in five cities, some as far away as California, said Tracey Alston, executive director of the effort. Participants get tested for diabetes, heart disease, Hepatitis C, high blood pressure, HIV and other disorders in an effort to erase racial disparities in health care.

The program is believed to have saved hundreds of lives, said Shantai Stowers, whose husband, Clarence, is pastor of Mars Hill Baptist Church, 5916 W. Lake. “Sometimes we’ve had to call paramedics onsite, because their [participants’] blood pressure was so high,” she said.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson praised Mr. Allen’s “transformative work in health and wellness,” saying her constituents “benefitted directly because of his tireless efforts to ensure that we were able to maximize the participation of health-care providers and community members for the screenings in Gary.”

“Royal was an integral part of making this work,” said John Gremer, director of community affairs for Walgreen’s, which funds the program. “His dedication, attention to detail, but most of all, the care he showed for the communities we serve will be missed.”

Mr. Allen, 52, of the Sheridan Park neighborhood on the city’s North Side, died Jan. 1 of congestive heart disease.

During a 25-year marketing career, he worked with Stedman Graham, Merrill Lynch, R. R. Donnelley, Anheuser-Busch, KFC, the Grant Park Music Festival and Joel Hall Dancers.

A graduate of Harvard Business School, Mr. Allen started his career at ad agencies including Leo Burnett and Equinox. He strategized on accounts including Secret antiperspirant and KFC before working on sports marketing with Graham, known as an entrepreneur, branding expert and longtime partner of Oprah Winfrey.

At Chicago’s Burrell, one of the nation’s most prominent black-owned ad firms, Mr. Allen contributed to marketing for Pillsbury products including Yoplait and Honey-Nut Cheerios. He also worked on American Airlines’ travel website.

For several years, Mr. Allen operated his own company, RAM Events (Royal Allen Marketing), before joining the Danielle Ashley Group, a marketing agency founded by Alston, where he became director of business development.

Born in Delaware, Mr. Allen grew up in Maplewood, N.J., and earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and music from Amherst College. He was a gifted pianist, Alston said.

And, he was chivalrous. “Royal would never let you touch a door,” she said.

In the late 1980s, Mr. Allen met his future husband, Jeffrey Fortier, while he was in Massachusetts to study at Harvard. By their third date, they were inseparable, said Denise LaPointe, sister of Jeffrey Fortier, a human resources executive from Winslow, Maine. The couple married in 2014.

Mr. Allen liked the music of disco king Sylvester, the shows at the Black Ensemble Theatre, and any movie with actress Angela Bassett. He also enjoyed performances by Alvin Ailey’s dance troupe.

TV’s “Empire” was a more recent pleasure, especially Taraji Henson’s portrayal of the brassy Cookie.

He always knew the latest hot restaurants. “I used to laugh and tell him he was my personal concierge,” Alston said. “No one goes anywhere without asking Royal.”

Mr. Allen also worked on the unveiling of the Magic Johnson Foundation and the 2004 Black Creativity Gala at the Museum of Science & Industry.

He served as the marketing chair for an annual conference of the Harvard Business School African-American Alumni Association and on the auxiliary board of the Chicago Academy of Sciences Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

A memorial service is being planned, Alston said.