George John “Jay” Ellis, III, 80, of Black Mountain, NC, died June 18 at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. He had spent the weekend enjoying a large family reunion, complete with childhood playmates, shared meals, a train ride, and funny stories. After the reunion, Jay visited Mammoth Cave with his three adult children. He died quietly in their presence, in a familiar natural setting within an hour’s drive of his childhood home.
Jay was born May 26, 1937, to George J. Ellis, Jr., and Frances Martin Ellis in Glasgow, KY. He became valedictorian first at Glasgow High School and then at Centre College, where he earned numerous academic awards, and attended Harvard Medical School. He completed his medical internship, residency (as chief resident), and fellowship at Duke, and jokingly referred to Harvard as “the Duke of the North.” He married Eleanor Lee Hall on June 12, 1965, and they had three children, Alan, James, and Moon; Eleanor died in 1982. Jay married Ursula Gehrke Goebels on July 27, 1996. A few years after his retirement from Duke, they moved in 2006 to Black Mountain.
Jay served at Fitzsimons Army Medical Center from 1968-1970, earning the rank of major, and then practiced endocrinology for 32 years at Duke. Though usually a man of few words, he cared deeply and treated the whole patient. He spent many summers as medical director of Eagle’s Nest Camp for Children with Diabetes, and after diabetes camp ended, many more years as a board member and strong supporter of Eagle’s Nest. He also actively supported efforts to protect human rights, public health, and the environment. Jay belonged to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Black Mountain. He enjoyed outdoor activities, including tennis, bicycling, camping, and birdwatching. He also enjoyed reading, learning, clever jokes, traveling with Ursula, and (secretly) the family cat, Footsie.
Jay is survived by his wife Ursula Goebels Ellis; children Alan (Genevieve), James (Betsy), and Moon Ellis; stepsons Peter and Kai (Jen) Goebels; and grandchildren Cody, Noah, and Luke Ellis; Ben Fedder; Kayla and Kyle Ford; and Katrina Goebels. He was preceded in death by his sisters, Martha Mitchell Ellis and Mary Wood Ellis; his first wife, Eleanor; and his parents.