Donald Edward Ellis died April 5, 2019 at The Villages Regional Hospital in The Villages, Florida. Don Ellis was born on November 23, 1928 in Boston, Massachusetts and was raised by his parents Carroll Ellis and Florence Ellis (née Herring) in Worcester, Massachusetts where he graduated from Commerce High School in 1947. He then volunteered for the Army and worked as a cryptographic technician. In 1949 he studied at Worcester Junior College before moving to New York City to study at the Television Workshop (1950-1951). His career at NBC began in 1951 when he joined the tour guide staff. It was there that he met his future wife Lois Jeanine “Jean” Dykstra who worked as a tour guide as well. They wed on July 5, 1952 in South Haven, Michigan and had two children together James Edward Ellis (1957-2014) and John Steven Ellis (b. 1959).
From 1954 onward, Don Ellis went on to serve in many capacities at NBC including field assignments covering college football, major league baseball, and World Series games. He also covered many major golf tournaments including the Bob Hope Desert Classic. He moved on to become Supervisor of Operations and Scheduling Events and then he was appointed Unit Manager assigned to news, entertainment, and sports. Don joined the NBC Sports Department full-time as an Associate Producer and Director in the 1960s. In 1968, Don Ellis was the producer for NBC’s coverage of the football game between the New York Jets and the Oakland Raiders held in Oakland, California. It became known as the “Heidi Game,” when the last minute and a half of the football action were cut off in order to broadcast the children’s film, “Heidi.” As the producer in the truck, Ellis argued in vain to keep the game on the air.
Through the late 1970s, Ellis worked as Producer, Director, Coordinating Producer and Executive Producer. A highlight of his work in NBC Sports included his role as Producer of the “Baseball World of Joe Garagiola,” NBC‘s pre-game show for the Game of the Week baseball telecast. This show won a George Foster Peabody award for meritorious service to broadcasting in 1973.
After leaving NBC in the late 1970s he worked as an independent contractor in New York. In 1983 he was engaged by the Turner Broadcasting System in Atlanta as their Executive Producer of Sports overseeing the development and expansion of Turner’s sports department. The highlight of his time there was his role as Executive Producer for the 1986 Goodwill Games in Moscow for which he received an Emmy Award under a special classification for outstanding technical innovation for the world’s largest remote. During his time with TBS he also won several Georgia State Emmy Awards for sports coverage and programming.
Aside from his professional accomplishments, Don Ellis and his wife Jean were active in church life in the Nauraushaun Presbyterian Church in Pearl River, NY where he ultimately served as Clerk of Session and wrote memorable liturgical dramas for worship services. When they moved to Cape Cod in the 1990s upon their retirement, Don became a moderator of South Congregational Church in Centerville, Massachusetts. While on Cape Cod, he also served as President of the Cape Cod Writers Center.
Don and Jean moved to The Villages in 2002. They joined the United Church of Christ at The Villages where he played an active role on many committees. During that time, he engaged in the church’s significant involvement in social justice work. While a resident of The Villages, Don served for many years on the committee for the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Breakfast.
Don loved to do many activities in his leisure time including writing poetry, creating fun greeting cards and playing golf. After moving to The Villages he founded the Saturday Swingers golf group.
He was predeceased by his parents, his sister June Wheeler, his son James Edward Ellis (1957-2014) and is survived by his wife Lois Jeanine “Jean” Ellis (née Dykstra), by James’s widow Mel Ellis and their children Taylor and Donald, his son John Steven Ellis (Béatrice Ellis) and their daughter Adriana Ellis as well as many loving nieces and nephews.
In lieu of flowers, please send donations in memory of Donald Ellis to the United Church of Christ at the Villages. The family will plan a memorial service at a later time.