Slideshow: Region patriarch Jim Ellis turns 90 - big turnout
Puget Sound Business Journal - by Patti PayneDate: Thursday, August 4, 2011, 10:17am PDT
Jim Ellis turns 90 years old on August 5. And that is history. This modest man has been called patriarch of the region – and for good reason.
A longtime Seattle attorney, Ellis has lead the creation, preservation and improvement of many of the things we love about living here – the clean water in Lake Washington; the Mountains to Sound Greenway - that swath of bill-board free green along the I-90 corridor; the state convention and trade center which is a magnet for events in downtown Seattle – these are but a few of the remarkable accomplishments lead by James Reed Ellis.
Ellis was amazed that about 125 leaders and Ellis family members turned out to celebrate his birthday at Safeco Field on August 3, including three past governors – John Spellman, Mike Lowry and Dan Evans; and Senator Slade Gorton. The party was organized by his three children, Lynn Erickson, Bob Ellis and Steve Ellis, with help from his brother John Ellis, chairman emeritus of the Seattle Mariners. The invitation for lunch, birthday cake and the Mariners vs. Oakland game was simple and fitting- a picture of a smiling Jim on the front, and inside, the details and a request :”No gifts please. Your presence is your present.”
Four suites on the 6th floor level of Safeco were reserved. Each was jammed with people trying to get to see Jim, all of whom had wonderful stories to tell about him through the years, through the work they had done together and the friendship that had been formed. Among them, Sally and Warren Jewell, Aubrey Davis, Howard Lincoln, Chuck Armstrong, Phyllis Lamphere, Penny Peabody, Joni Earl, Bob and Joan Wallace, Egil (Bud) Krogh, Bill Gates Sr., Bruce and Jeannie Nordstrom – suffice it to say the suites were overflowing.
“I’m tickled and so happy to see everybody is so excited to help us celebrate. Most especially I am happy because he is happy,” said daughter Lynn, who did a lion’s share of work in organizing the party, and was up until all hours arranging historic pictures of nine decades of her father’s life, which adorned the walls of all four suites.
Brother John Ellis was jovial. “He is much older than I am and do not mistake me for my brother,” he joked. Both are so accomplished and awarded, and have several times been called by each other’s names, mistakenly,once by Governor Christine Gregoire.
Joni Earl, this year’s Seafair Queen Alcyone, knighted Jim, and gave him a plaque bearing his new title: “Prince of Pristine Lake Washington, Father of Metro and Visionary Civic Leader Extraordinaire.”
Sometime mid-game, the crowd at the Mariners game saw these words up on the big screen at the field: “Celebrating two brothers who helped keep baseball in the Northwest- Jim and John Ellis. Happy 90th Birthday, Jim!”
Most of the people who had come to the party did not see the briefly flashed message. Instead they were crowded around Jim who was blowing out candles on his cake about then, a cake that pictured a mountain goat looking out over the region he helped in such a major way to shape.
Why a mountain goat? “That’s simple,” he told me. “When we were first starting out, (with wife Mary Lou) we didn’t have very much money at all.” Ellis said he was harping about keeping things low budget, and so he got the fond family moniker of being an old goat. “Later because of all the hiking we did, they added ‘mountain’ to the title and it stuck. I’m the OMG. Old Mountain Goat, and I like it,’ he laughed.
So how does it feel to have reached 90, fit and full of vigor of mind and body? “It’s incredible,” he said. “It’s a miracle.”
I came as a guest and someone who has known Jim and the Ellis family for three decades. But it is impossible not to write about this event, which is a milestone in the history of the region.
Former Seattle Mayor Norm Rice expressed it well, at the party: “Jim Ellis’s legacy to the region cannot be calculated. There is not a major civic project that does not have his imprimatur all over it, and a buy-in from all the communities he has touched.”
Said brother John, looking out over the perfectly manicured baseball field so close to Puget Sound, "This is Seattle at its best. The green grass, the clean water, all these sorts of things that Jim has worked on- it's the perfect day to do this."
Call it tenacity, consensus-building, sheer force, there must be some reason one man, not rich, not famous, could accomplish so much in one lifetime for the good of the region. “If there is any secret, it is this,” said Jim Ellis, looking me square in the eyes and smiling. “It began as a labor of love, and it ended as a labor of love. That’s it. That’s the secret. It’s all a labor of love.”
Well, it hasn’t ended. He’s still going at it. He’s writing a book about it all, bit by bit, slowly and accurately, and not so much about himself, but from the standpoint of other people, whom he calls friends along the way, all of whom he puts before and above himself, and to whom he says he owes a great debt.
That’s Jim Ellis. “I’m so thankful to everyone for being here. And the Mariner’s played so well,” he said. True. In bright sunlight, they whomped the Oakland A’s 7-4, not realizing what a special gift that was to one of their biggest fans, the guy six levels up, turning 90 on August 5.
PATTI PAYNE is a columnist for the Puget Sound Business Journal. Phone: 206-234-6827 | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org