Union County’s eldest physician, Dr. David B. Ellis, died Tuesday, July 22, at the age of 94.
He achieved his medical career as one of the area’s longest-serving doctors in a roundabout way, and when he did start, it was in an era when a local physician was expected to make a string of house calls late into the night. That career stretched from handing out pills in homes to a time heart transplants had become common.
But medicine was really his second, or even third, career.
Ellis was born in Cotton Plant in 1920, attending Tippah-Union School at the county line (where students had to furnish their own wood for the stove) and finishing up at Mississippi Heights Academy in Blue Mountain – both institutions long gone.
He aspired to a medical career early on but his financial situation made that appear very unlikely. After high school he spent two years in the Civilian Conservation Corps at Potts Camp, earning $1 a day, and was finally able to save enough to enter Mississippi State University and then begin working his way through. He had several jobs in the CCC but one was operating a simple medical clinic, perhaps a foreshadowing of his later career. Into his second year at MSU, his education was interrupted when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
Receiving his draft notice a few weeks after Pearl Harbor, he tried to enlist in the Navy but had to settle for the Army and served exactly four years, mostly in China, Burma and, particularly, Calcutta, India where they lived in bamboo barracks. His specialty was machinist and sharpshooter. Ellis’ discharge date made him slightly late for the spring semester but he resumed classes and was able to obtain an agricultural degree in 1947, thanks in part to the GI Bill. There came a blind date with a Blue Mountain girl, Nancy McKinstry, that apparently went well; the two were married the next year.
As the story has been told, it was from this time that, probably due to the popularity of a certain comic strip, “Nancy’s” boyfriend gained the nickname of “Sluggo.” Years later, a gas station and convenience store owned by Ellis across from the hospital would bear the name “Sluggo’s” as well.
After graduation, Ellis was first assistant farm agent in Lafayette County, then associate farm agent in Prentiss County and, finally, Farm Agent in Clay County, all within three years.
His early desire to enter the field of medicine had never left, however, so he began pre-med and then two years of medical school at the University of Mississippi. Ole Miss only offered two years then so he finished at UT-Memphis and did his internship at the old John Gaston Hospital there.
In 1956 they moved to Ripley and a year later to New Albany.
His wife reportedly had two major criteria concerning where he would establish a practice: a Presbyterian church and a good school system. New Albany met those criteria and it probably didn’t hurt that the town was close to home.
Detailed obituary information was not available at presstime, but over the years, Ellis became a familiar figure as business and property owner in addition to his medical practice. He was also active in political and local community affairs.
The Ellises have six children: twins Mary and Margaret, Elizabeth, Martha Jane, David Jr. and John.
Ellis retired in 2001 after 44 years in practice here.
Visitation for Dr. Ellis was to be from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday and from noon to 1 p.m. Friday, July 25, at New Albany Presbyterian Church, 605 Hwy. 15 South with services at 1 p.m. Interment will be in Vista Memorial Park with United Funeral Services in charge of arrangements.