San Juan Preservation Trust remembers Fred Ellis Sr. as a ‘giant of conservation’

  • Wed Feb 10th, 2010 11:51pm
  • Life
Dr. Frederick Ellis

Dr. Frederick Ellis

The San Juan Preservation Trust posted this tribute to Dr. Frederick Ellis Sr., 1916-2010:

Fred Ellis, a founding member of the San Juan Preservation Trust, passed away in his historic Shaw Island home on the morning of Feb. 5 at age 93.

Fred served on SJPT’s board of trustees for 29 of the organization’s 30-year history, and – with his family – donated more than 1,400 acres of land and conservation easements on Shaw and Lopez islands.

Fred Ellis’s conservation legacy in the San Juan Islands began with his first visit to Shaw Island in 1936. When the Orcas Lime Company abandoned its plan to log Shaw for cordwood in the 1950s, Fred and his family purchased their large family homestead on Parks Bay for $200 an acre. Since then, Fred, his wife Marilyn, and his family methodically acquired more than 1,000 acres on Shaw Island and an additional 400 acres of important agricultural land on Lopez Island. All of these places have been permanently protected through gifts of land and conservation easements made to the San Juan Preservation Trust and the University of Washington.

Fred led a diverse and accomplished life, enthusiastically pursuing his interests in education, astronomy, Pacific Northwest history, philosophy, cattle ranching, music, environmental activism and land conservation. His education at Reed College in Oregon was interrupted by World War II, where he volunteered as a medic with the British 18th Army Dagger Division in Burma. A landmine exploded in a village near the Irrawaddy River, killing five companions and leaving him with a walking stick as a lifelong companion. He returned from Calcutta on a freighter that mutinied (an experience he recalled as “fabulous!” – one of his signature expressions).

After finishing up at Reed and receiving his PhD in History and Philosophy from Harvard University, he went on to teach at the University of Illinois, University of Minnesota, Western Washington University and the University of British Columbia.

During his long tenure at the Preservation Trust, Fred’s voice influenced a number of strategic decisions, including the effort to launch the $18.5 million campaign to save Turtleback Mountain on Orcas Island.

In his later years, Fred was quick to share his favorite quote attributed to E.O. Wilson, a Harvard biologist and theorist: “Man will be defined not by what he has created, but rather by what he has chosen not to destroy.”

“It sends shivers down my spine,” he told one of many journalists that made a pilgrimage to Shaw to interview him. “Isn’t it fabulous?”

Posted: Feb. 8, 2010