A Personal Remembrance
Patricia Ellis was my mentor. She was my friend. I tripped over the threshold of Nashoba Country Day School in the spring of 1980, a green young thing with little experience but excited to dig into my new career. I had ideas! I was going to change the world of teaching and make my mark! I didn’t realize that change was already in the air, not just for me a newly arrived transplant from the “deep” South (Maryland), but for the school that would become my home for 13 years. Mounds of dirt surrounded the far end of the main classroom building, a wonderful open post-and-beam and glassed schoolhouse. Its only other partner on the campus at that time was Tucker, the ubiquitous “multi-purpose” building. After a greeting from the secretary Lee Knight, I was ushered to that space by Molly Eberle, seventh grade teacher who I would eventually replace. (She was pregnant with twins!) Yes, I tromped through a muddy tunnel of plastic walls protecting the connection between the two structures soon to be transformed into a new school, but what I entered was a room of magic.
It was Closing Day. I was surrounded by little girls. The stage held the stars of the day, graduating Eighth Graders, a sea of white holding nosegays of blue. Everyone smiled. Fifth and Sixth Graders lined the adjacent walls and Fourth Graders marched obediently, though nudging and tittering a bit, to the center risers beneath their “big sisters,” ready to perform. And then, it happened. The magic. A Grecian Chorus of language filled the room. Alice dropped down the rabbit hole, and these amazing children recited and sang her journey with delight and empathy for her plight. In the end, Alice was returned to earth and again safe in the arms of those who loved her. Skipping from their performance, the Graduates in tears, the performers, too, were embraced by the ones who loved them. They were congratulated on their final day at school for the hard work they had done with their classmates and friends. These girls together as one voice had transcended their individual limits. They had surpassed and gone beyond what any one of them could have accomplished alone. They were sublimely happy in their shared success.
That first moment of my life at Nashoba defined the rest of it. And, I would learn that it had so very much to do with its leader in transition from Nashoba Country Day School to Nashoba Brooks School. That Closing Day Ceremony in 1980 embodied the philosophy and strength of character that was Pat Ellis. It was an example of her teachers and students working side-by-side to create powerful results. Miss Ellis was an intellectual, an old-fashioned forward-thinking educator. That may sound contradictory, but it wasn’t. She believed in the intuition of good teachers, whom she hired, and the basic power of the inquisitive minds of children, whom she welcomed across that threshold I had crossed. Putting role models and children together was her talent, and then leading them in discovering their innate talents was her forte. She embodied the Latin tenet, esse quam videri – to be and not to seem.
Pat’s competence, compassion, sense of humor, her very being was the strength of the School throughout her tenure there. It is her legacy that Nashoba Brooks School retains its roots, which she established. She raised up innumerable children to reach their potential, and she gave significant scope for the imagination that every good teacher needs. I grew as an educator under her guidance. Though I traveled on to different places, her voice was always in my mind. It guided me and forever will be with me. She is a blessing I will hold in my heart forever.
Patricia Ann Ellis, Quintessential Educator
January 15, 1929 – March 28, 2017
Entering the Village of Concord, one is struck by its history. It is palpable. The white clapboarded homes, the Green, its church spires and cemetery, the thriving shops and the railroad whistle liken back to when Thoreau and Emerson, the Alcotts, and Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne walked its streets and byways. Not only poets and writers and philosophers convened there, but educators, too. The Concord Academy, founded in 1823, at the center of town, presents a tangible testament to that fact. As the Academy relinquished its lower grades in the mid-twentieth century, the Brooks School, preschool through grade three, grew in scope, as did the Fenn School, all boys in grades four through eight. Alcott and Thoreau Public Elementary schools were planned and built in Concord. Then came the emergence of a new school, Nashoba Country Day School, which welcomed fourth through eighth grade girls in 1959.
The School rapidly progressed under Headmistress Ruth Tucker through 1972 when Patricia Ellis became Director of the School. Bill Lawrence, Treasurer of the Board of Trustees at that time, remembered meeting the then Director of Elementary Education for the Framingham public school system: “Quite tall, attractive, and obviously well qualified, she announced to us that she had no idea whatsoever about anything to do with fundraising. We hired her anyway. Her name was Patricia Ann Ellis.” By that time, she had taught in both public school systems and private independent schools.
During her twenty years at the helm of the School, Miss Ellis oversaw many changes, including a merger in 1980 with the Brooks School. The original post-and-beam glassed Schoolhouse on Strawberry Hill Road soon grew into a campus of new buildings housing preschool, kindergarten and grades 1-3 of boys and girls and all older girls in grades 4-8. Retaining both schools’ missions, Miss Ellis adeptly and with compassion brought together two faculties, a cohesive curriculum adhering to the developmental needs of children, and students engaged in authentic educational experiences. Nashoba Brooks School of Concord was born. Along the way, she had learned the art of raising money.
The true measure of a life is the extent to which it affects others to do good in this world. Patricia Ellis, “Pat,” died on March 28, 2017, of an exceedingly aggressive cancer, but the extent of her effect on the lives of her students continues to radiate through their productive lives. She inspired the youngest children in her care to seek knowledge and to experience joy in learning. Through her intelligence, principled behavior, love of the arts, and her compassion for and interest in a wider world, Pat encouraged hundreds of girls to use their talents to strive for their potentials, to be the best that they could be, and to bring about positive change. Her students are doctors and nurses, scientists and environmentalists, writers, lawyers, artists, volunteers, teachers, mothers and fathers, performers. When asked about her hopes and aspirations for all NBSC students as they moved toward the millennium, Pat said, “My hope for our students is that they will be civilized citizens of the world, confident in their own abilities, secure in their values, sensitive to the needs of others, and committed to improving, in some way, the lot of their fellow human beings.” She embodied that hope and, indeed, produced graduates who fulfilled that promise.
Patricia Ann Ellis was born in New Haven, Connecticut, on January 15, 1929, the daughter of Joseph Roy Ellis, Dean of Freshmen at Yale, and Katherine Rochfort Ellis, teacher at the Foote School. Pat was destined for a profession in education. Her brother Joseph Roy Ellis, Jr., was born February 5, 1934, and just two months later Pat’s father died. Her mother was left to raise a five-year-old girl and her newborn baby brother alone. Mrs. Ellis was a strong woman who served as inspiration for a “can do” attitude, a quality of Pat’s. Gail Mayfield, Pat’s first President of the Board of Trustees, described her as “a modern, dynamic, enthusiastic, get-to-the-issue person. Whenever a crisis presented itself, Pat was able to meet problems with such clear thinking.” From her upbringing, Pat had learned to “roll up her sleeves” and get to work, solving problems and averting crises.
Pat attended the rather progressive co-educational elementary school where her mother worked and later the Day School, characterized as a rather conservative secondary girls’ school. The melding of those early experiences in her formal education influenced the educator she became. Pat was an intellectual, an old-fashioned forward-thinking educator. That may sound contradictory, but it wasn’t. She believed in the intuition of good teachers, whom she hired; she assembled a strong and talented faculty. She also believed in the basic power of the inquisitive minds of children, whom she welcomed each day across the threshold of NBSC. Putting role models and children together was her talent, and then leading them in discovering their innate talents was her forte. She exemplified the Latin tenet, esse quam videri – to be and not to seem.
Her background and accomplishments would seem to belie such a humble character trait. She was a Wellesley “girl,” who, when looking back on her years in high school and at Wellesley College, remembered specifically an English teacher who “forced me to do some serious thinking,” and her sociology professor who imbued in her a deep respect for the value of diversity in peoples and cultures. For Pat, her best school years were in college, where she gained true independence of thought and action. She also received her master’s degree in education from Harvard. Her avid interests from that time forward were politics, drama, history and fine arts. She loved animals and had quite the menagerie, appropriately named for any number of Roosevelts, whom she admired. Her constant companion Teddy was woofing or lounging by her side at school. She later had dog companions named Lady Rebecca and Telli, British corgis like those of Queen Elizabeth.
Pat Ellis was an advocate for her school, her teachers, and her students. She will be remembered for the innovations and growth she brought to the Nashoba Brooks community, including a partnership with the Chewonki Foundation in Outdoor Education, interscholastic athletics, diversity and inclusivity, and competitive employee compensation. Not only did Pat work tirelessly to grow faculty salaries, but she insisted on sharing in the school’s good fortune during a “banner” year of enrollment. Gloria Legvold, Assistant Director and English teacher as well as life-long friend, remembers after the merger, “when enrollment was at capacity, Pat gave each faculty member a small bonus.” Everyone received a stipend because everyone had contributed to the success. She recognized that it was good teaching and a caring staff that brought those families to NBSC. Madame Tommy Wight, former French teacher, noted, “I will always remember her fairness.”
In honor of her leadership, in 1987, the Board established the Ellis Lecture, intended to “broaden our thinking and stimulate curiosity.” Its first speaker was historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, who spoke from her new book about John F. Kennedy. Dr. Kearns Goodwin’s excellent initiation of this Nashoba tradition set a high bar for the choice of topics and speakers to follow. This spring’s Ellis Lecture, coincidentally the day Pat died, the now Head of School Danielle Heard shared that, “Pat will be remembered for her advocacy for teachers and dedication to social justice, as well as her strength, keen intellect, wry sense of humor, and commitment to providing outstanding educational opportunities for girls and women.” That is her legacy.
Four years after the inauguration of the Ellis Lecture Series, this remarkable woman spent her final year at NBSC, 1991-1992, being feted by every constituency. There were dinners and toasts and presents galore, including a round-trip ticket to Europe. Parents and children gathered for a “Picnic with Pat,” donning tee-shirts bearing her name. Honoring her inclination toward all things British, teachers and staff greeted her in the Courtyard with Gilbert and Sullivan songs and all the proper royal touches of an elegant English tea in springtime. In one well-articulated unanimous voice, they shouted, “Thank you, Pat, for everything.” Her extended family had spoken.
Among that extended family was former teacher and designer of the School’s first Computer Lab, Nancy Corcoran, whose love and support gave Pat’s last days the quiet and respectful dignity she deserved. Nancy enhanced Pat’s quality of life by her orchestration of “outings” and an 88th birthday bash. There also for Pat in her final days, as throughout the years, was Betsy Nelson, past President of the Board of Trustees and parent of two Nashoba graduates. She honored the woman who had stood by her as NCDS Chair during the challenging work of bringing two distinct schools together as one. Betsy gave to Pat’s well-being in many ways. Pat became part of the Nelson family, included in weddings and family Christmases. Beyond the personal significance of their relationship, Betsy profoundly impacted the professional life of her friend Pat. She was a major force behind the installation of the Ellis Lecture and Scholarship fund. Reflecting on Pat and her career at the time of her retirement, Betsy said, “She has been fair, often when it’s hard to be fair. She’s had the courage to lead by example… She has the vision to be willing to change and grow and dream and work hard to make the dream turn to reality. I feel privileged to know her as both a mentor and friend.” A theme throughout Pat Ellis’s life is the admiration she earned and the lasting friendships she nurtured.
Those friends are many, from those in Canada to Great Britain, to Concord Academy to Wellesley friends, and friends from First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church, to her neighbors in Acton, Dr. and Mrs. Tripp, and others beyond the scope of this memorial piece to name. When everyone gathers together in the fall for a Memorial Service, it is our hope to recognize all who knew and loved her with the opportunity to share their remembrances of Pat in writing. We will create a joint testimony of friends and family to the memory of this great woman. Details of that event will be forthcoming.
During her tenure at the School, Pat lost her mother and her brother. She is survived by a loving nephew Jason Lincoln Ellis, his wife Laurie, and their daughters Regan and Kathryn, as well as her niece Amy Ellis Salib, her husband Emil, and daughters Sophia and Julia. Along with them, those who knew and loved Pat can imagine her meeting up with the likes of Henry Thoreau and all those other famous Concordians in their transcendental walks. She would liven Henry’s saunter with her jaunty step, quick smile and sparkling blue eyes. We can imagine her discussing the merits of collaboration among intelligent minds to surpass and go beyond what any one individual could accomplish alone. Her quick and ready insight, her ability to know things without conscious reasoning would fit right in with Henry and his literary friends. With that imagined, her friends and family can be reassured that Pat Ellis, quintessential educator, is sublimely happy and at rest.
If the true measure of a life is the extent to which it affects others to do good in this world, it is also the extent to which a person’s memory resonates in the daily lives of those who hear that person’s voice in their minds. Pat’s voice is that of a gifted educator, a leader, a mentor, a visionary, an aunt, a friend. We who knew Pat well will remember her well and be blessed in those memories. Hers was a life well-lived.