Retirement Renegades: Love in Action

By The Advocates

Someone once told me that our client, Tammy Allyn, could make a paper bag interesting. While undeniably true, it’s not her wit, sense of humor, or unusual background that make her a perfect Retirement Renegade. It’s her love.

Faith in action is love, and love in action is service.  That’s Mother Teresa. It’s also Tammy Allyn. She’s the third renegade for us, following behind a banker-turned-country-singer-songwriter and an accountant-turned-winemaker.

Tammy’s story is different, and perhaps more accessible. She didn’t heel turn into another, more exciting profession, rather she’s spent her retirement in service to others.  To be fair, I’m sure our other renegades serve others well, but that’s not what I interviewed them about. I’ll give you her retirement advice upfront and then the backstory because it’s going to be long:

Get involved with organizations that help others. Nothing satisfies the soul as much as doing something for somebody else.


Tammy came to us by way of tragedy, being the executrix of a beloved client’s estate.  Tammy was, at first, busy with the paperwork required to wade through the aftermath of someone’s death and so we didn’t get to know her well for a few months.

After that, we got some hints that she may be something…else. She talked about her adventures underwater, as though it was common; she talked about Africa like someone with first-hand knowledge, and she handled our deceased client’s estate like a champ, indicating she’d been down that road before.

What gives? Collectively, we decided we needed to hear the whole story. Smash cut to last April and a phone call I penciled in for 45 minutes going into double overtime.

Tammy’s a yankee, sort of. Being born in Rhode Island and spending her earliest years in Chicago definitely qualifies her, but her moves domestic and abroad place an asterisk on the record.

Immersed in faith from birth, her parents were missionaries, first working for Sudan Interior Mission after an intense scrutinization process.  After the family was accepted into the program, and they spent one year in Aden, Yemen and then went on to Ethiopia where they were able to open a small clinic to help the local population. Her father had served in Italy in WW2 as a medic and chaplain, providing the requisite know-how. 

Her parents spent 25 years in Africa, taking infrequent leaves back to the States. Of their own accord, they went to Kenya as teachers and, by the end, they considered Africa their home despite their country of origin.

Her brother was born in 1947, the first American child born in what was then British Somaliland. Tammy was 16 years old and finishing high school in the United States when her brother died at the age of 11 of an entirely treatable case of appendicitis.

Sorrow still palpable over these long decades, she describes conditions unthinkable to me: no hospitals were open in Ethiopia, because their king had returned from a visit to Russia and a national holiday ensued. By the time he received treatment, he was past the point of recovery.

Tammy was alone when she received the letter from her parents that her brother had perished, alone screaming, and crying until relatives from her dad’s family came to the house, which was little comfort because she didn’t really know them. A neighbor proved a good friend that accompanied her on long walks to escape the tragedy at home, something she is grateful for to this day.

Intending to become a professional helper, she pursued a career as a nurse and began schooling. She lacked the funds to finish and went to work, holding a variety of jobs until her eventual retirement. Her second job, however, proved fateful; the meeting place of her beloved husband, Jack. Tammy worked as his assistant. She was hired on Good Friday in 1961 and the following May, they were married.

There is delight in her voice as she talks about Jack, who passed away in 2018. He loved to make people laugh, he was witty, charming, successful, the whole package. He was 85 when he passed, which she comments, was a life “not long enough for me”.

When Jack stopped working, he began to volunteer, helping those suffering from Alzheimer’s and their families, which was odd for someone Tammy indicates had little patience, being a real “type A” personality.

Jack eventually fell ill with Parkinson’s, a disease that didn’t take his mind from him despite suffering great pains in his arms and legs. The first indication of the problem was in 2007, when they were to dive together, and his legs felt weak.


Diving would be a lifelong passion for Jack and Tammy. In 1964, they flew to Grand Cayman for vacation which wasn’t then the popular tourist destination it is now. Jack was nervous, this being his inaugural flight, but also because they flew over Cuba where the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis had recently unfolded.

Cayman proved to be a place of inspiration for the pair, especially their adventures snorkeling, though they were marred by the frustration of not being able to go deeper into the water. Upon their return to Chicago, home at the time, Jack found a place to take scuba lessons and they returned to Cayman in 1966 as scuba divers.

Now it’s time for some underwater street cred. Tammy and Jack went on to dive all over the world, preferring saltwater dives to fresh, though she admits that exploring shipwrecks in Lake Michigan is plenty of fun.

She’s dived the US west coast, all throughout Central America, the Caribbean, the South Pacific, and of course, in Africa, off the coast of Kenya.

The best dive for the pair was in Fiji (not surprised, and getting increasingly jealous), where they did a “live aboard”. It’s what you think it is, 2-3 weeks on the water, in a boat. You can get “further out” by not returning to shore daily.

What makes this trip special is the soft coral, an entire shelf of it, which Tammy describes as an under-sea wall, covered in gold, white, yellow and its namesake color, that look like hanging bushes creating a “glorious sight”.

By extreme contrast, the worst was the “checkout” dive from their initial lessons, which was held in an abandoned quarry. She described it as diving in pea soup so thick they had red cords tied to the instructor for safety and visibility. It was brutally cold, despite the wetsuits, and ice had formed around the edges. None of this was helped by the confirmed presence of water moccasins.

Her stories change a bit when the pair began to carry a camera along on their adventures. In the Bahamas, she was nearly attacked by a barracuda targeting her legs for a meal but was able to jab it with the camera and drive it away.

Another time, she was trying to capture some elusive garden eels when she noticed a shadow over her. It belonged to an eight-foot tiger shark, and they eyed each other as Tammy assessed her weaponry, finding nothing but her camera. Thankfully, she didn’t need to use it.

If she’s sounding fearless to you, know that’s not quite true. Her only real fear in diving is tunnels and cramped spaces where she could get stuck, especially with the bulk of her gear. Makes sense to me, but I’ve got to say, she’s braver than I’ve ever been.


After Jack’s death, Tammy had to find out who she was outside of being a caregiver. But it turns out, Tammy is a caregiver through and through. Think, Mr. Rogers, but like, funnier. She’s developed her passions and committed herself to organizations that allow her to pour out her love on others.

She supports causes that benefit animals, being a passionate animal lover and winner of the Strangest Pets I’ve Ever Heard Of ™ award for having two baboons, a pair of ostriches, and a Dik-dik as a child in Africa. Her parents said no to the baby hyena. Good call.

Her other groups include HUPS (Houston Underwater Photographic Society), The Professional Women’s Exchange Group, her church’s Primetimer’s Group, Senior Education Services, the Houston Glass Club, and she serves as the chair of the architectural committee for her neighborhood.  Unbelievably, this is not an exhaustive list which is why Tammy is always busy, but happily busy.

Tammy gave me the scoop on a local gem of a diving spot. Tammy says, off the coast of Freeport, TX, about 120 miles out, there’s a diving attraction called The Flower Garden Banks, which is now a National Marine Sanctuary. There you can see, among other things, whale sharks. I hope I’m not the only thought they’d be further away in cold, cold waters.

The hardest part about writing these profiles is knowing what you’re leaving out, interesting stuff that I want you to know, but don’t have space for. You’ll have to accept these 1,500-ish words as a longwinded introduction to the legend that is Tammy Allyn, one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met, and a true retirement renegade.

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