Senator Johnny Ellis was a public servant who dedicated his life to bettering the lives of Alaskans – all Alaskans. He was also my friend.
I last saw Johnny over lunch at Club Paris restaurant on November 30th, but we were in touch through texts on most days. During that last get together, he talked about East High School, getting a taste for politics, and learning a few hard lessons before finally getting elected.
Whenever we got together, I’d pick him up at his apartment and we’d head out. His mobility was already strongly affected by his multiple sclerosis, and he was using a walker. One time he mentioned how much he liked his new Weidner apartment. First floor, laundry across the way, back from the street, in a bit of a green belt. He said the only thing lacking was a bench out front so he could sit while waiting to be picked up. After lunch, I called Dean Weidner and told him the Johnny story. I asked whether, if I were to buy a bench, his maintenance crew could install it at the building. Dean replied that he was a great admirer of Johnny Ellis and would be pleased to buy the bench AND install it.
Everybody loved Johnny.
I wrote this a few years ago after he retired from the legislature, thanking him for his service.
Senator Ellis, you will be missed. By me, the nonprofit sector and people and communities across the state.
Thank you, Senator Ellis
Originally published on August 24, 2017
During my time in Alaska, I’ve had the privilege to meet wonderful people, see amazing sites and participate in historic events. Among my greatest moments was getting a Johnny Ellis hip-hop nickname. So just call me D-Kap.
Johnny Ellis and I started hanging out in Juneau around the same time, in the mid-1980s. He was a new member of the State House, representing downtown Anchorage. I would visit our capital city at that time to advocate for public radio. He was a hero for the poor, the disenfranchised, the old, the disabled, the marginalized, the homeless, the sick, the immigrant. To me, he was a hero for the nonprofit sector. He valued us, consulted with us, advised us, attended our special celebrations. He knew the people we served. We felt just as important as big corporate executives when we went to see him–maybe more so. He always made time for us.
Recently, leaders from the nonprofit sector gathered at Rasmuson Foundation to thank and honor Johnny Ellis. A fountain of affection flowed continuously. As speakers relayed the thousand ways he provided leadership, support and comfort to better Alaska, he repeatedly interrupted in his Johnny Ellis way to say, “No. So-and-so deserves the real credit for this. So-and-so really should be thanked for that.”
He reflected that the best of his 32 years in public service were those he spent as part of the Bipartisan Senate Majority. To accomplish great things for Alaska and to propel the state forward, Republicans and Democrats put aside their differences on the political left and right margins and focused on the common ground they shared as Alaskans. The investments they made in Alaska’s infrastructure and policy are significant and will benefit generations of Alaskans.
Thank you, Senator Ellis, for showing us what a life of service looks like. But please don’t stop now that you’ve retired from the Legislature. There is still so much to do.