Muriel Allerton, 93, former Fulton mayor and longtime community journalist, died Thursday
“She was an amazing person,” said current Mayor Ronald L. Woodward Sr., who served a two-year term as mayor in the 1980s. Allerton was his campaign manager.
When he finished his term in 1987, she successfully ran for mayor and served two terms. Woodward helped her with her campaign.
He recalled her as an intelligent leader who cared deeply about the community.
“She was always there to help the little guy and the disenfranchised,” Woodward recalled. “She was a very popular mayor. She came through some very tough times,” he said. “The city took a tremendous hit from state aid and there were a lot of layoffs.”
Allerton, who had founded the Salvation Army soup kitchen, didn’t want to see people lose their jobs, but she considered the layoffs unavoidable, Woodward recalled.
“She definitely didn’t want to do that — no mayor does,” he said. “There’s a reality that’s sometimes hard to face, but that’s what leaders do,” he said. “I think she was well-respected. She was very intelligent. You couldn’t put anything over on her.”
Allerton had worked as the mayor’s secretary for nearly 10 years before running for office. During that time, she was a freelance reporter covering Fulton.
When a group of editorial and composing room staff at the Palladium-Times newspaper in Oswego went on strike in 1980 and created a new newspaper, the Oswego County Messenger, Allerton, who was a stringer reporter for the Palladium, joined the strikers.
“Muriel was very supportive of the labor unions and the editorial staff,” said Janet Clerkin, who was among the striking newspeople. Clerkin now works as public information coordinator for Oswego County.
The striking journalists were concerned that older workers were being fired so the newspaper’s owner could avoid paying retirement benefits, Clerkin said.
Allerton was sympathetic. She worked for the Messenger until its demise three and one-half years later, Clerkin recalled. “We never could get the advertising revenue needed to support the paper. Our circulation was excellent.”
Allerton wrote her stories at home and would phone in the stories, which staffers would take by dictation, Clerkin said.
“She used to say that when you worked for the Messenger, you were bound by blood, sweat, tears and printer’s ink. You were together,” Clerkin said.
Allerton was a charter member of the Oswego County Press Club, now known as the Professional Journalists and Communicators of Oswego County. The group was founded in 1972.
She served as its president in 1982 and 1983, organizing programs to help the media do their jobs, said Marion Ciciarelli, current president of the group.
“She brought in law enforcement to explain changes in DWI law,” Ciciarelli said. She organized candidates’ debates.
The group named its scholarship in her honor. “She was a journalist at heart,” Ciciarelli said. “She was very supportive of young people.”
Terry Bennett, a former managing editor of the Valley News, met Allerton in 1982. “One of the things she did was take me around and introduce me to the press club members,” Bennett remembered.
The two newspaperwomen became friends. Bennett recalls Allerton as a mentor to not just young journalists but community members as well.
“Her ability to just reach out and touch everybody,” Bennett said. “She made sure everybody felt welcome. She was very interested in everything around her and everyone. She took anyone under her wing and encouraged us. She was a good friend.”
The Susan B. Anthony Center for Women’s Leadership at the University of Rochester quotes Allerton in a piece she wrote titled, “At the End, Secretarial School Pays Off.”
“Most of what I have done with my life grew out of an overwhelming desire to be educated,” she wrote. “I knew my parents could not afford to send me to college so the best thing I could do after graduating from high school in 1937 was to go to nursing school where I didn’t have to pay tuition.
“I hated it and left. My parents eventually helped me go to secretarial school.”
Allerton worked as a secretary in the engineering department of Cooper Union in New York City. During World War II, she served on the “suicide squad,” responsible for running to the roof with hoses to put out fires in case of an attack.
By night, she took courses at New York University, where she was editor of the school paper. There she met her future husband, Joe. She earned a degree in journalism.
Allerton also was a writer for Doubleday Book Club in New York City. She and her husband moved to Fulton in 1963, where she took a job at the former Nestle plant.
Allerton proceeded to help found a slew of civic organizations, including the League of Women Voters, Fulton Historical Society, Fulton Art Association and Oswego Opera Theater.
She served as a trustee for the Fulton Public Library and was part of the Fulton Community Revitalization Corp., the Neighborhood Watch and the state economic development Empire Zone board.
In 2002, she was honored in the National Women’s Hall of Fame “Book of Lives & Legacies.”
In 2010, she was named a New York Woman of Distinction.