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Etty Allen, widow of ex-NFL coach George Allen, dies

Photo: George Brich/AP

Etty Allen, shown here in 1978 with husband George, was the mother of current Redskins GM Bruce Allen.

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Henriette "Etty" Allen, matriarch of a famed American football family and mother to former Virginia Gov. George F. Allen, has died. She was 90.

According to a statement from the Allen family, she died Jan. 2 after a long illness. A private funeral is planned for Tuesday in California.

The daughter of anti-Nazi resistance fighter Felix Lumbroso, she lived in occupied Tunisia during World War II.

After the war, she immigrated to Sioux City, Iowa, where she met and married George H. Allen, then the head football coach at tiny Morningside College.

Over the next four decades, Allen coached winning teams with the Los Angeles Rams and Washington Redskins and earned a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He died in 1990.

Her son Bruce Allen is now the Redskins' general manager.

Etty Allen was a stabilizing force in a family in which football preoccupied not only her husband but their three sons, George, Bruce and Gregory, according to a book written by her only daughter, Jennifer Allen, and published in 2000.

In the book, "Fifth Quarter: The Scrimmage of a Football Coach's Daughter," Jennifer Allen described a bond she developed with her mother that was strengthened by their inability to crack the football fraternity the men in the family enjoyed.

Yet her mother was an avid and enthusiastic football wife and mom who could harangue opposing teams and game referees with language almost as colorful as that used in the locker rooms.

Though her husband was a friend of President Richard Nixon, it was her son George who diversified the family name when he entered the political arena.

His 1993 upset over a heavily favored Democrat in Virginia's 1993 gubernatorial election triggered the most extensive Republican expansion in Virginia since Reconstruction. Seven years later, Allen unseated Democratic Sen. Chuck Robb and was considered a serious contender for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination. But he fumbled away his Senate re-election in a gaffe-strewn 2006 campaign against Democratic newcomer Jim Webb that brought Etty Allen briefly into the headlines.

In a debate with Webb that September, Allen denied his mother's Jewish heritage when a debate panelist asked about it. Later, Allen and his mother told The Associated Press that she told him of her Jewish ancestry only weeks before the debate.

She said she had kept it secret from the family for decades, fearing they would suffer the same discrimination she had known in Nazi-occupied Tunisia. After tearfully disclosing her secret to her son George in the summer of 2006, she said, she made him promise never to disclose it, not even to his siblings.

Last year, Allen lost a second bid to win back his old Senate seat to Democrat Tim Kaine and announced afterward that he would not seek elected office again.

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