Elizabeth Jane Allen, 85, of Philadelphia, a specialist in public relations and development who helped lay the groundwork for the national Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in 1955, died Tuesday, Jan. 30, of complications from influenza at the Keystone Hospice in Wyndmoor.

Elizabeth Jane Allen
Courtesy of the family
Elizabeth Jane Allen

She had been battling Parkinson's disease for two decades, said her daughter, Meredith Wiggins.

Mrs. Allen, known as "Betty," had a distinguished career as a public relations, human resources, and development specialist. An artist, she started out by doing layout and graphic design for local publications such as Bucks County Panorama, a magazine that is no longer published. "When I was growing up, there were art boards with tissue paper all over our house," said her daughter. "That's how she got into public relations."

Mrs. Allen went on to serve as public relations and development director at various times for Bryn Mawr, Nazareth, Graduate, and Taylor Hospitals. She won awards for her publications, her daughter said.

In the 1970s, Mrs. Allen served as the director of public affairs and chief development officer for the Academy of Natural Sciences. During her time there, she completed a $10 million capital campaign, according to senior fellow Robert Peck.

"Betty Allen was in charge of the development office at the Academy of Natural Sciences [now part of Drexel University] from 1977 to 1979," Peck said. "During that time, under the presidency of Thomas Peter Bennett, the academy raised more than $10 million to build a new, seven-story research wing and a 400-seat auditorium. Both facilities are still in use today."

When her children were grown, Mrs. Allen took a job as associate executive director of the Pennsylvania Osteopathic Medical Association, with responsibility for legislative activity and communications. At that time, the family was living in Hershey, Pa.

Her final job was with Garofolo, Curtis & Company, a personnel company, as a human resources executive, specializing in physician recruitment and human resources. She retired in the 1990s with the title of senior vice president and principal in the company.

A civic volunteer, Mrs. Allen, along with her husband, Robert C. Allen, a Girard Bank executive, were very aware of the needs of those around them. In 1955, while living in Secane, the couple noticed that a little girl next door had an incessant cough. "The windows were open in the summer and they could hear her," Wiggins said.

They learned that she had cystic fibrosis, a disease characterized by a buildup of thick, sticky secretions in the lungs and digestive tract that interferes with breathing and digestion. "What can we do to help?" the Allens asked the parents.

The conversation led to a meeting at Girard of parents with children who were fighting cystic fibrosis. "Mother was the PR piece, and Dad was the banker. They were trying to raise money for children with this terrible disease," Wiggins said.

The Allens also were friendly with Milton Graub, a pediatrician from Bala Cynwyd, and his wife, Evelyn. They, too, were the parents of children with cystic fibrosis. In 1955, the Allens, Graubs, and other parents of afflicted children launched the national Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

At that time, children with the disease were not expected to live long enough to attend elementary school. "Thanks in large part to the foundation's aggressive investments in innovative research and comprehensive care, the median survival age for people with this disease is now nearly 37 years," the foundation said in 2010, the year Graub died.

A Philadelphia native, Mrs. Allen was the daughter of Ralph H. Purvis and Elizabeth Noyes Boyd Cull. She grew up in East Falls and was a 1949 graduate of Philadelphia High School for Girls.

After she and her husband retired to Marco Island, Fla., in the 1990s, Mrs. Allen became chairman of the board of trustees of the Marco Island Medical Center.  A lifelong Episcopalian, she helped St. Mark's Episcopal Church of Marco Island raise $2 million to build a new sanctuary.

Mrs. Allen enjoyed travel, bird watching, and supporting environmental causes.  "Her intelligence, commitment, generosity, and whimsical sense of humor will be greatly missed," her daughter said.

In addition to her husband and daughter, Mrs. Allen is survived by son Robert C. Jr.; daughter Deborah E.; four grandchildren; and two brothers.

A funeral service will be at 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 17, at the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, 8000 St. Martins Lane, Philadelphia 19118. Burial is private.

Memorial donations may be made to the Audubon Society via http://pa.audubon.org/ or to the All Saints Fund of the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields at the address above.