Richard Ellis dies at 87

Dear Faculty and Staff,

With sadness I write to tell you that Professor of Biology Emeritus Richard A. Ellis, PhD., died in Prague, on December 31, 2015.

Professor Ellis graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1949, and received his PhD. from Harvard University in 1954. Following two years of service in the Army, working at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, he joined the Brown University faculty as an instructor in biology. He was appointed to assistant professor in 1958, to associate professor in 1962, and to professor in 1967.

Professor Ellis is remembered as an inspiring teacher of numerous courses, including introductory biology, histology, cell biology, and microscopic techniques. His publications spanned a variety of biological systems including epithelium, sweat glands, and salt glands, and he inspired many of his students to continue into scientific and medical careers.

His interests in biology extended beyond the classroom and laboratory: he was an enthusiastic gardener and a keen ornithologist―an interest that led to biographical research on the life of Audubon and a seminar on the life of birds.

Professor Ellis served Brown in a number of ways during his 39 years here: he was an adviser and mentor to many students, director of the Biomed Electron Microscopy Facility, a member of the Department of Molecular Biology, Cell Biology and Biochemistry, and a Faculty Fellow, where he organized cultural and social events for students living in dormitories. It was at his open houses that he met students who were holding two or three jobs to help cover their college expenses and was inspired to endow a scholarship for undergraduate students. He wrote about the joy he felt when he received a letter from the first recipient of the scholarship describing her goals for her Brown education.

In his retirement Professor Ellis returned to Cape Cod, where he had grown up. He enjoyed painting and was a member of the Provincetown Art Association and Museum. He also lived in Prague, Czech Republic, with his husband, Pavel Farkas, whom he married last year.

Gifts in memory of Professor Ellis can be made to the Richard Ellis and Robert Burch Scholarship. Gifts can be made online, or checks made payable to Brown University can be sent to Brown University, Gift Cashier, Box 1877, Providence, RI 02912.

Dr. Farkas will be updating Professor Ellis’s website to make it possible for colleagues and students to leave comments and remembrances of him. A memorial service is being planned for this summer on Cape Cod.

On behalf of the Division of Biology and Medicine, I extend heartfelt condolences to Dr. Farkas and to Professor Ellis’s many colleagues and friends.


Jack A. Elias, MD
Dean of Medicine and Biological Sciences
Frank L. Day Professor of Biology


5 thoughts on “Richard Ellis dies at 87”

  1. Thanks to Prof. Peter Heywood who prepared this summary. We are now working together on an article for Brown Alumni magazine.

  2. He inspired me to pursue Cell Biology. I was just preparing to write him an email. I am sorry.

    Robert McCord, M.D., Ph.D.
    Brown University Class of 1963.

  3. Dear Paul, I was saddened to learn of Richard’s passing. i will miss both of U visiting me at the Mayflower in Provincetown. i hope U R finding each passing day less difficult. You were a wonderful companion to Richard. Fondly, Donna

  4. I was saddened today by the news of Richard Ellis’ passing. Fifty summers ago I was an undergraduate in his lab learning electron microscopy in the basement of Partridge Hall. His mentorship and his quiet, trusting guidance were wonderful gifts; I will always be grateful.

  5. Dr. Ellis played an important role in my development and I look upon him thankfully. But if you earn a Harvard Ph.D., and become a tenured Brown professor, and live into your late 80s, then you have accomplished a ton. I offer my condolences to those who knew him and wish I could have spoken to him one more time.

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