The Coastal Star

Coastal Star: A brush with drunken-driving death uncorks a life of helping millions

Tony Allerton of Delray Beach directs the Crossroads Club, which helps people beat addictions. A coin reminds him of the day he stopped drinking (below). Photos by Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

By Rich Pollack

Tony Allerton remembers a day he could have easily died.

It was Sunday, May 9, 1982, and Allerton was driving back from West Palm Beach to his home in Delray Beach along State Road A1A. He’d had a few drinks earlier and dozed off for a few seconds. He was awakened as his tires left the pavement and, had he not jerked the steering wheel to stay on the road, he would have plunged into the Boynton Inlet.

The next day, Allerton went to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and, although he had been to meetings before, this time he would stick with it. “I didn’t want to die,” he said.

“I wanted to live.” And that’s what he has done — for more years than most.

Last month, to celebrate his 90th birthday, he drove to Rochester, N.Y., to visit an old Navy buddy before heading off to West Dover, Vermont for a family birthday celebration.

The annual vacation is a break in Allerton’s busy life, which includes his job as executive director and general manager of the Crossroads Club, a 7,200-square-foot facility that hosts about 160 meetings a week for organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous.

A fixture at the club since its first meeting in 1982, Allerton is there at 7 each morning for a meeting and stays until noon, when he heads out to lunch.

For most of his 35 years at Crossroads, he has been a driving force behind the club’s success, having served as president of the nonprofit that oversees Crossroads and led the effort to build the club’s current home in Delray Beach.

He remains a key figure in the day-to-day operations of the organization, which sees about 750 people a week. He’s also one of its most active fundraisers, tapping into the strong relationships he’s built in Delray Beach, his home since the 1950s. 

Allerton serves on the board of the Delray Beach Playhouse, where he is a past president, and on the boards of Wayside House and the Drug Abuse Foundation of Palm Beach County. He has been chairman of the Delray Beach Drug Task Force and president of the Delray Beach Rotary Club.

But Crossroads is his strongest passion. Over the years, more than 7 million people have come through its doors and in some way been touched by Allerton’s efforts.

“Probably 98 percent of those have no idea who I am,” he said, adding that he’s perfectly fine with that.

Yet for all that he has done for Crossroads, Allerton says he still owes a tremendous debt to the club. “I could never do as much for Crossroads as it had done for me,” he said. “If it wasn’t for Crossroads, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Ask Allerton how he has managed to live to 90, despite some tough years in the rear-view mirror, and he shrugs.

“I guess whoever is in charge has decided that he, she or it isn’t through with me yet,” he replied.

His daughter Tracy had another explanation.

“I think the secret to his longevity is that he has found his true calling and has been able to fashion a life for himself that fulfills that calling on his own terms,” she said. “I watch him and marvel at what a difference one person can make in so many lives.”

Tracy Allerton is a designer and editor at The Coastal Star. He also has another daughter, Mimi, and a son, Colby.

Allerton, who is divorced, lives a healthy lifestyle and wakes up every morning to a routine and a purpose.

“I don’t smoke and I don’t drink,” he said. “My doctor says if I keep doing what I’m doing, I’ll live another 15 years.”

His day begins at 5:30 a.m. when he gets up and says a prayer before doing 15 to 20 minutes of stretching exercises. He then eats a mini-breakfast of cereal with low-fat milk or yogurt. “If I’m feeling reckless, I might have an English muffin,” he said.

Some ask why he doesn’t just relax, sleep late and enjoy a retirement.

“I don’t want to die yet because I’m loving life,” he said. 

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