Dr. Jean F. Ellis left us suddenly on Monday, May 17 while enjoying one of his great passions- cycling in the hills near his Billings, Montana home. Jean, a well-respected Emergency Physician and world-class athlete was born November 23, 1946 in Esch sur Alzette, Luxembourg to his parents Ralph and Germaine Ellis. Shortly after his birth, his parents moved to the United States and eventually settled in Cincinnati, Ohio where he grew up.
Jean graduated from Walnut Hills High School in 1965 where he had served as co-captain of the cross-country team, sparking a passion for long distance running that would eventually gain him national notice. He was drafted upon graduation and spent 18-months in service in the U.S. Army before being honorably discharged. Upon his return to Cincinnati, he enrolled at the University of Cincinnati where he received his Bachelors of Arts in Chemistry in 1969 and went on to graduate from the University of Cincinnati Medical School, receiving his M.D. in 1976. During this time Jean was fast-becoming a nationally ranked marathoner and in 1979 he became only the second African-American to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Marathon team. Between marathons, Jean continued with his medical residency. In 1981, Jean put down his running shoes and took up mountain climbing with the same enthusiasm as he had put into his marathoning. He quickly became nationally known for his climbing skill and precision. He climbed Mt. Everest three times and in 1988 he was part of an expedition that put the first American women at the famed mountain’s summit. In 1996 he became the first African-American to summit an 8,000-meter peak, this time Cho Oyu.
In the summer of 1983, he met his future wife Shirley Heep, an Emergency Room Nurse at a Texas hospital where they both worked. Finding a soulmate in each other, they moved to California and were married in 1988. Jean’s love for the mountains and open roads made Montana a perfect fit for the pair. In 1992 they moved there and built “Fort Ellis” where they raised their daughter, Ryan. Jean joined the Emergency Room staff at St. Vincent’s in 1994, quickly becoming respected for his decision-making, expertise and superb patient care.
When not in the hectic pace of the ER, Jean was a familiar sight on the roads in the hills leading from his home to the Pryor Mountains where he cycled 50-miles at a time. Jean’s passion for life took him to places around the world where he traveled with his wife and parents. Many of their journeys included Nepal, Italy, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, Mexico and throughout the U.S. His fluency in French and affable personality made Jean a nimble world traveler.
Jean was a member of the Porsche Club of America for many years and was very proud of several early model 911’s which he had restored. Jean also served as the Absaroka Region Porsche Club of America President for several years. He was a high-performance driving instructor for the club and a certified race car driver.
Jean leaves behind a rich legacy to celebrate and inspire those who knew and loved him. He is mourned greatly by his wife Shirley Ellis, their daughter, Ryan Bermes and his mother Germaine Ellis of Billings. He also leaves behind his niece Wendy Ellis of Seattle nephew Jacques Ellis of Michigan. Jean was preceded in death by his father, Ralph F. Ellis in January of this year.