Capitol Alert

’A superb public servant’: Longtime California official Cliff Allenby dies at 82

Cliff Allenby, then-director of the Department of General Services, in 1999.
Cliff Allenby, then-director of the Department of General Services, in 1999. Sacramento Bee Staff Photo

He began his career in public service in 1963 as an administrative trainee with the Department of Finance when Pat Brown was governor. Over the following decades, he worked his way through the governorships of Republicans Ronald Reagan, George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democrats Gray Davis and the younger and older Jerry Brown.

He retired and unretired three times, more than once accepting the call to oversee struggling or orphaned departments. His final return came in 2011 after he agreed to fill in for a few months at the Department of Mental Health. He ended up filling in for a few years, leading what later became the California Department of State Hospitals.

Cliff Allenby, one of Sacramento’s most renowned and tenured state public servants, died in hospice care in Elk Grove Friday night after a battle with melanoma. He was 82.

“Cliff was a true public servant whose experience, commitment and ability to get things done made California stronger,” Brown said in a statement. “He will be missed.”

Allenby may be most remembered for his pride in serving California, said Lesley Allenby, his granddaughter. “He was in state government for a long time. He loved working for the state.” He also enjoyed swing dancing with his wife, Sandy, who died in 2008, and spending time with friends and family, she added.

Back in 2012, he reflected over a glass of wine with Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Morain: “Reagan was the most liberal and Jerry Brown was the most conservative, if growth of government is the yardstick.”

Allenby worked in the Department of Finance for 23 years before joining Deukmejian’s cabinet in 1987 as secretary of the Health and Welfare Agency. After transitioning into the private sector as chief lobbyist for the California Building Industry Association, he returned to the public sector to represent Los Angeles County.

In 1997, Gov. Pete Wilson named him director of the Department of Development Services. He was later appointed by Schwarzenegger as interim director of the Department of Social Services in 2006.

Steve Merksamer, Deukmejian’s chief of staff, said Allenby was a throwback. “Cliff Allenby does and did represent the very best in public service.” Merksamer said. “He had views about issues, but he served every governor, Democrat or Republican, with a great deal of integrity and professionalism. He was by any measure a superb public servant.”

He is survived by his three children, Craig Allenby of Elk Grove, Pam Bailie of Pilot Hill and Susan Asker of Santa Rosa, and three granddaughters, Rachael Allenby of Portland, Me., Lesley Allenby of Elk Grove and Elizabeth Albrecht of Santa Rosa.

Allenby’s family will hold a celebration of life at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Valley Hi Country Club, 9595 Franklin Blvd., Elk Grove. The family asks that remembrances be made to the charity of choice.