William Roy EllisMay 7, 1936 ~ July 4, 2017 (age 81)
Bill Ellis, a man who loved politics, business, family and laughter, died just after the clock ticked past midnight into Independence Day. He was 81.
Ellis suffered a stroke Monday morning at his home in Suntree.
"I've lost my soulmate," said Carol Ellis, his wife of 35 years.
Ellis leaves a void in the community, too.
"We lost a great statesman, wonderful person and a good friend," said Steven P. Johnson, president and CEO of Health First, where Ellis worked in government relations for 20 years. "Bill's impact on all of us will be a legacy that no other can achieve, and he will truly be missed. On behalf of Health First and all of our associates, we extend our hearts and prayers to his family during this time."
Carol and Bill met in Miami in the late 1970s. Carol chaired a retirement party for the fire chief. Bill attended the party on his first night in the city.
"I looked up and was in love the minute I saw him," she said, though it would be three years before they started dating and married.
Ellis was working in government affairs for Florida Power & Light at the time, and that job took the family from Miami to West Palm Beach and, finally, to Brevard County in 1991.
After taking early retirement from FP&L, Ellis accepted a job as lobbyist for Port Canaveral. Five years later, he was hired by Health First.
In the meantime, he had become an integral part of the community, working with organizations including United Way of Brevard, the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast, the Brevard County Civilian Military Council, the Brevard League of Cities, the Cocoa Beach and Melbourne Chambers of Commerce and the Brevard Community College Foundation.
We had our 60th anniversary celebration last April," said Rob Rains, president of United Way of Brevard. "We had nine past Board Chairs attending. I brought them all up on stage and let them share remembrances of their time as chair. Bill told the story of how he chaired the search committee ... and 'wined and dined' me at Kay's BBQ for breakfast. It hurts that I won't get to hear him tell that story again."
Ellis also did consulting work for The Viera Co.
"On the business side, it's not very often you see a professional touch so many parts of the economy of Brevard County," said Lynda Weatherman, president and CEO of the Economic Development Commission.
Power, transportation, health care, development: "He was uniquely tied to so many aspects of our economy," Weatherman said.
"And in doing that, he was always gracious, always kind," she said. "He was just a good, dear man, and I will miss him greatly."
Weatherman wasn't the only person to talk about the Lake City native's good nature and Southern charm.
"I met Bill when I worked in the Legislature back when he worked for the Port," said Lori Scott, Brevard County's supervisor of elections.
"He was just such a warm Southern gentleman," she said.
Scott said when she decided to run for office, Ellis was there for her with advice and guidance.
"It was so genuine," she said, "sharing all his life experiences with me."
Susan Hammerling, a physician's assistant and activist in the Brevard Republican party, also saw Ellis as a father figure and role model.
"He was more than a friend to me," she said.
The two participated in golf tournaments and attended meetings and fundraising events together.
"It was always a comical experience when we would do things together," she said. They talked about golf, life and politics.
Ellis was a staunch Republican, which made life being married to an avid Democrat interesting.
Carol Ellis was good friends with former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, and has never been shy about sharing her political views.
"When we moved here, he told me I had to become a Republican to fit in," she said. "I did that for about two years and almost lost my mind."
They eventually agreed to disagree on politics and college football. He supported the Florida Gators, she the Florida State Seminoles.
Ellis retired from his job with Health First in May 2013, and the couple moved to South Florida to be near their grandchildren.
"And he lasted 14 months," Carol Ellis said. "He missed working. He missed the people. He missed his friends."
They moved back to Brevard in fall of 2015, and Ellis went back to work for Health First part-time.
He was an avid golfer, playing every Sunday at Rockledge Country Club. He loved his children and grandchildren. He was a great dancer.
He was trying to grow tomatoes in the backyard of their Suntree home, with little luck.
"I looked out this morning, and there was this beautiful red tomato," his wife said Tuesday afternoon.
"He was so special," she said. "He was so kind and loving. Even though I was a Democrat."
Ellis is survived by his wife Carol; son Scott of Loxahatchee; daughters Dawn Ratiner of Miami and Joni Livingston of Lakeworth; and five grandchildren.
Celebration of Life:
Sat., July 22nd, 2017
Maxwell C. King Center for the Performing Arts, Main Stage, 3865 N. Wickham Road, Melbourne
IN LIEU OF FLOWERS the family requests donations please be made to:
Hospice of Health First
c/o Health First Foundation
1350 South Hickory Street
Melbourne, FL 32901