By Gino Blefari
This week my travels find me at home, starting Monday with my typical WIG calls. On Tuesday, I participated in an early morning Berkshire Hathaway Energy call and was a guest speaker for the team at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New Jersey Properties, where I spoke on “Ways to Thrive in a Shifting Market.” Today, I presented to the team at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Lifestyle Properties, and tomorrow, I’ll wrap up 15 succession planning calls that happened over the course of this week with leaders from across HomeServices.
Read more: Thursday Thoughts on Leadership: A Tribute to Pierce Allman
While my work schedule was typical, this week was anything but, as I mourned the loss of my dear friend, Pierce Allman. He passed away on November 25 with his beloved family by his side, including his wife, Allie Beth of Allie Beth Allman and Associates, which is widely recognized as one of the most productive and fastest-growing residential real estate companies in Dallas. Pierce’s legacy no doubt contributed to this overwhelming success.
We’ve all experienced that special moment when you meet someone and have instant chemistry. That’s what I had with Pierce.
He lived an incredible life. A devoted husband, father, grandfather, entrepreneur, community leader, preservationist and philanthropist, Pierce co-founded Allie Beth Allman and Associates with Allie Beth. He was renowned for his marketing brilliance, industry expertise, sharp wit and impeccable style. Pierce was not only an integral part of our HomeServices family but also an integral part of American history.
Born January 5, 1934 in Little Rock, Arkansas, Pierce showed a penchant for the extraordinary at a very early age. As a child, he earned 104 out of 105 available merit badges with the Boy Scouts of America, becoming the youngest Eagle Scout in the nation. He also started a paper route for The Dallas Morning News, which he continued into his college days, and thanks to a later scholarship from the publication, was able to enroll at Southern Methodist University (SMU) where he studied radio and television broadcast.
He graduated from SMU in 1954 and joined the U.S. Air Force, serving in the Strategic Air Command in Austin, Texas from 1955 through 1957 before moving to Dallas to work for WFAA radio. He made his way quickly up the ladder from announcer to program director.
Pierce told me his time at WFAA was “an adventure,” recalling how as a crew cut-sporting professional in his mid-20s, he was about 25 years younger than the average age of a WFAA employee. During his time there, he pioneered many innovative programs and initiatives, including a call-in talk show (“in those days, it was a little edgy,” he said) and much of his programming would evolve into what we know as standard, modern-day radio and podcasting today.
At WFAA, Pierce met a young Texas Christian University graduate named Allie Beth McMurtry, who became the absolute love of his life. They married in 1963 and about one month after the wedding, on November 22 (exactly 59 years and nine days before this tribute is published), Pierce witnessed an event that would change his life forever.
Where were you when JFK was shot?
It’s a question that defines three generations – The Greatest Generation, The Silent Generation and the Baby Boomers. A moment of tragic remembrance …
I was in my third grade class …
But Pierce was there. And not just standing among the crowds as the motorcade passed by but across the street from the Texas School Book Depository and then, inside it minutes after shots were fired.
Pierce told me, around noon on November 22, he decided at the last minute to walk with a WFAA colleague the four blocks to see Kennedy’s motorcade – with President Kennedy and First Lady Jackie Kennedy inside. (“The closest thing to royalty was coming to town,” he said.)
Together, Pierce and his colleague walked along Houston Street in the early afternoon. Here’s the story he told me: “I remember a couple of blocks over, I kept looking at the buildings and rooftops and the open windows and I kept wondering, ‘How can they secure all that?’ And I don’t know why, but we got about a block away and I turned to my colleague and said, ‘You know, if there were to be anything like an assassination attempt, it would probably be here.’”
They kept walking, finally arriving on the corner opposite the front door of the Texas School Book Depository, a seven-floor building facing Dealey Plaza that housed a school textbook distribution firm.
The First Lady was closest to Pierce as he watched their motorcade drive by; JFK sitting on her other side. He saw the President brush hair out of his face, saw the “marvelous” Jackie O and got so carried away in the awe of the moment, he hollered, “Welcome to Dallas, Mr. President.”
The motorcade turned a corner.
Pierce told me when the first shot happened, no one around him even recognized it as a shot (he asked his colleague if it was firecrackers), but then there was a second and a third shot … Pierce said he looked up to where the sound was coming from, to the Texas School Book Depository building. The motorcade car sped off and Pierce thought, ‘I’ve got to get to a phone.’ (All this happened in the span of 18 or 19 seconds.)
He crossed the street and went up the steps of the Texas School Book Depository, passing a man on his way and asked him where a phone was.
“In there,” the man said.
Inside the lobby of the Texas School Book Depository, Pierce found a phone and called in to the radio station, all the while wondering exactly what to say and unsure of what he just witnessed. Was the President dead? Was it a solid hit? What condition was JFK in now? Pierce had no idea, but with the Russian Cold War still raging, he told me he wasn’t about to go on air from the lobby of this building and say the President had been shot, only to inadvertently initiate WWIII.
“There was an unreal quality to the entire thing,” he told me.
But Pierce would forever go down in history as one of the first media representatives on the scene during the Kennedy assassination.
And the story gets even more intense.
Pierce said less than two weeks after the assassination, he received a call from the Secret Service, asking for an interview. He went down to the police station and started detailing the afternoon to them. He went through the entire ordeal several times, and finally the Secret Service said, “In the testimony of Lee Harvey Oswald, he states that as he was leaving the Depository building, a young man with a crew cut identified himself as a newsman and asked for a phone. Based on what he’s said and what you’ve said, this is you.”
Yes, Pierce not only reported live from the scene of JFK’s assassination but also came face to face with JFK’s assassin moments after the shots were fired. He didn’t just witness history; he was part of it. Over the past 59 years, countless news organizations have used his eyewitness report. And because he was live on the scene, Pierce started what would become the 24/7 news cycle we know today.
To keep JFK’s legacy alive, Pierce was a key player in the founding of the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, and his voice is the one you’ll hear if you take an audio tour.
After his work at WFAA and later at SMU, Pierce started a public relations division for Tracy Locke, winning the prestigious Clio Award (among others) for his work. When Pierce and Allie Beth founded Allie Beth Allman Real Estate (known now as Allie Beth Allman and Associates) in 1985, he served as the company’s Director of Marketing and instituted brilliant and visionary initiatives – the use of color in newspaper advertising, catchy taglines like “Some firms follow the Market, We Make the Market,” The Allmanac and more.
In addition to his marketing and communications genius, he was dedicated to giving back, becoming heavily involved in several local foundations and non-profit organizations that positively impacted the lives of thousands within his community, a patriarchal figure to the city that gave so much to him. In 2017, he was named Dallas Father of the Year.
So, what’s the message? I feel incredibly fortunate to have met Pierce and wish I had met him sooner in my life so we could have spent more time together. He was insightful, smart, kind and humble – everything a great leader should aspire to be.
Pierce, we all miss you. Though you are no longer with us, the tremendous legacy you leave behind is a testament to the extraordinary life you lived.