Until failing health forced his retirement from the diaconate six years ago, he assisted at Masses in three parishes, performed baptisms, and took Communion to the sick. He was assigned variously to St. Joseph Pro-Cathedral in Camden, St. Peter in Merchantville, and St. Stephen's in Pennsauken, as well as the pastoral care office at Cooper University Hospital in Camden.
"Being a deacon was his way to help others," said daughter Mary Hall. He was a humble man whose spirituality was not showy but ran deep and strong, she said. "He took being a servant very seriously."
Deacon Ellis came to Catholicism in his late 20s. Until then, he was a Presbyterian, born and raised in Middletown, N.Y., in the Hudson River Valley.
After graduation in 1953 from Middletown High School, he enlisted in the Army, with a tour of duty in Britain. Discharged in 1955, he entered the banking business at ground level, as a teller at First National City Bank of New York, a precursor to Citicorp.
While a surgical patient at the Veterans Administration Hospital in the Bronx, he fell in love with his nurse, Joan LeClair. She was Catholic, he converted, and they married in 1963. Within a few years, they moved to South Jersey, where he became a branch manager for Pennsauken Bank.
With an eye up the career ladder, he got a bachelor of science degree in business from the Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science in 1970, and took continuing education with the American Banking Institute.
He was about to accept a job offer in Maine when he found a compelling reason to stay put.
A door closed since the Middle Ages had been opened in 1967 when Pope Paul VI restored the diaconate as a permanent order, rather than only a transitional stage on the way to the priesthood. The Camden Diocese began diaconate formation classes in 1973.
Deacon Ellis was in the first group, ordained by Bishop George H. Guilfoyle in 1976 at St. Rose of Lima in Haddon Heights.
By then, Deacon Ellis was president of the newly formed Clover Federal Savings & Loan, a post he held until 1989. He remained in banking, at Mount Holly State Bank and Commerce Bank in Cherry Hill, until his retirement in 1996.
Throughout, he gave his weekends to deacon duty.
"He showed my sister and me what it was to be compassionate toward others, to be selfless," his daughter said. "He would do anything to help. And he kept doing it until he couldn't anymore."
In retirement, Deacon Ellis also found a less-than-sacred pursuit.
A neighbor, an officer of Local 8 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts, invited him to help out as a stagehand. He joined the union and worked venues ranging from the Walnut Street Theatre to the Tweeter Center.
"He got to see a lot of cool shows - Jimmy Buffett, Billy Joel," his daughter said. "But he didn't think much of Ozzy Osbourne."
Besides his wife and daughter Mary, he is survived by daughter Joanna, a grandson and granddaughter, and a brother and sister.
Viewings will be 7-9 p.m. Monday, April 1, and 8:30-9:30 a.m. Tuesday, April 2, at Alloway Funeral Home, 315 E. Maple Avenue, Merchantville. A Mass of Christian Burial will follow at 10 a.m. at St. Stephen's Church, Pennsauken. Interment will be in Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, N.Y.
Donations may be made to Samaritan Healthcare and Hospice, 175 Madison Ave., Mount Holly, N.J. 08060, or the Alzheimer's Association, 225 N. Michigan Ave., Fl. 17, Chicago, Ill. 60601.
Condolences to the family may be offered at wwww.allowayfh.com.
Contact Kathleen Tinney