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Editorial: In treating his great wealth as UB’s, Ellis became benefactor to thousands

For George Melvin Ellis Jr.’s contributions to society and the $40 million he bequeathed to the University at Buffalo medical school – a donation that has since grown to $56.8 million – this community is extremely grateful.

The story of the medical school’s single biggest gift in the history of the university by one of its graduates, and one of the largest bestowed upon the Buffalo region, is about one man’s unwavering dedication to the patients he served and his deep abiding belief that whatever money he made through savvy investments was not his but belonged to the university.

The gift was revealed in 2011 following Ellis’ death but it came with the stipulation that his name be kept anonymous as long as his wife was still alive. She died earlier this year and, at that time, his identity was disclosed.

Ellis was born in Toledo, Ohio, the only child of a banker. He graduated from UB with his medical degree in 1945 and served out his military obligation at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Dayton, Ohio. It was there he met Gladys Kelly, a nurse from Wilmington, Del., and the two were married in 1952, and moved to Connersville, Ind.

He and his wife never had children. They lived a modest life in a midcentury, two-bedroom ranch a couple of miles from the office. Few, if anyone, would have guessed the fortune the good doctor had been amassing and what he intended to do with the money.

As News reporter Jay Rey told the story of this generous benefactor, Ellis taught himself how to invest using money his father had left him as an inheritance. David Draper, associate vice president for advancement at UB, said the couple treated their vast wealth “as if it didn’t exist.” This fact alone is amazing, except for this: “because in his mind it wasn’t his money – it was for UB.”

Ellis died July 21, 2010, at the age of 87.

He kept his promise to his alma mater. In 2011, the university announced that $40 million had been endowed to the medical school. When Ellis’ estate was settled three years later, the gift had grown to $45 million. After Kelly died Feb. 15 of this year at age 93, the university received the remainder of the funds from three trusts Ellis had previously set up which amounted to another $11.8 million.

The grand total contribution to UB came to $56.8 million. The decency, dedication and commitment by one man toward his alma mater and adopted community will help generations to build a better future.

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