A longtime local physician and his wife gave the largest donation ever to the university where he earned his medical degree.
Dr. George M. Ellis Jr. died at age 87 on July 21, 2010, and his wife, Gladys "Kelly" Ellis, at age 95 on Feb. 15, 2018. After the doctor's death, the University at Buffalo medical school in New York received his bequest. A stipulation in the gift was that the donor's name could not be revealed until Mrs. Ellis died.
The couple's total bequest is $56.8 million.
The newspaper in Buffalo published a lengthy article about the couple and the bequest on Dec. 25, 2018, based largely on interviews with their friends.
"He was a small-town, Midwest doctor who was so grateful for his short time in Buffalo that he spent the rest of his life quietly amassing a fortune -- only so he could give it away to his beloved alma mater," according to the article by Jay Rey, a reporter for The Buffalo News. His profile largely relied on two of the couple's friends, retired physician Herbert Joyce and the university's associate vice president for advancement David Draper.
The article states that Dr. Ellis was born in Toledo, Ohio, the son of a banker. His interest in medicine began at an early age when he became ill while on a family vacation and a doctor making a house call diagnosed him with appendicitis.
In 1942, he chose to attend the University at Buffalo's accelerated medical program -- accelerated because of the need for physicians in World War II. The Army Specialized Training Program paid for his education in exchange for his service as a physician afterward. He graduated with his medical degree in 1945.
"Ellis was still in his early 20s, but already plotting how he would pay back UB," the article states.
Ellis served his military obligation at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Dayton, where he met his wife, a nurse.
"The two married in 1952 and moved to Connersville, Ind., and set up practice in his aunt's old home on 10th street next to the railroad tracks," the article continues.
"The living room served as the waiting room, the kitchen as his office, and the dining room as an examining room, Draper recalled. Known around town as Doc Ellis, he posted office hours, but that didn't matter. The day wasn't over until every patient who walked through the door was treated.
"'If you didn't have any money, you were taken care of," Draper said. 'No questions asked.'"
The article states, "Ellis spoke to Draper often about leaving UB everything he had, which to anyone on the outside didn't appear to be much. The couple lived in a mid-century, two-bedroom ranch a couple of miles from the office.
"'Very, very modest,,' Draper said of the Ellis home. "When I came on the scene (in 2004), they still had the same furniture from when they moved into the house -- exactly the same. Not pretentious. Very, very understated, almost to the point where George would not invest in some maintenance on the house because it was an expense he didn't feel was necessary and that it was more money for the university."
The article goes on to say that Ellis made his fortune by investing, getting tips and advice at the Fayette County Public Library. He'd start his day with hospital rounds at 6 a.m. and then go to the office for patient visits. Then he'd stop at the library, where he read the Wall Street Journal, Barron's and other financial publications..
Between 1988 and 1998, he set up three charitable trusts for his wife, with the remainder going to UB after her death.
"Yet, no one from his small city knew his true net worth -- and he didn't show it.
"He didn't bank in Connersville.
"His brokers weren't in Connersville.
"'They treated their wealth as if it didn't exist,' Draper said, 'because in his mind it wasn't his money -- it was for UB.'"
After Dr. Ellis' death, the university announced that $40 million had been endowed to its medical school by an anonymous donor. By the time his estate was settled in 2013, that had grown to $45 million. When Kelly died in 2018, another $11.8 million went to the university, making a total contribution of $56.8 million.
Interest from the endowment is spent at the discretion of the dean, with the goal of providing the quality of education that Dr. Ellis was afforded.