Steve Ellis, a hard-working, passionate sports writer who covered Florida State University sports for nearly 30 years, died Thursday afternoon, November 19, 2009, at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. He was 54. Ellis, a senior writer and columnist who joined the Tallahassee Democrat on February 26, 1990, suffered a massive heart attack on November 10. Longtime friend Bill Vilona collaborated with Ellis on the 2006 book, “Pure Gold: Bobby Bowden An Inside Look.” The sports editor at the Pensacola News Journal, Vilona said no one ever out-worked Ellis. “I admired his work ethic. He really loved being a sports writer,” Vilona said. “He loved the day to day challenges. Those kinds of traits are rare. “He was an old-school guy who embraced some of the new things we’re doing like blogs.”
- Ellis won numerous Florida Sports Writers Association awards and was an inspiration to aspiring sports writers.
- “Just a few weeks ago, a teenager told me he grew up reading Steve Ellis stories about the FSU football team,” Tallahassee Democrat executive editor Bob Gabordi said. “He wanted to become a sports writer because of Steve.
- “His work touched so many tens of thousands of young boys and girls. I’m glad I was able to share this story with Steve from his hospital bed.”
- Ellis was working in his home office when he suffered the heart attack. He insisted Karen Detrick Ellis, his wife of eight years, e-mail the story to the newspaper before he would let her take him to the hospital.
- “His passion for sports journalism is unmatched,” Gabordi added. “No one outworked him. No one knew the games, coaches and players better.
- “His Democrat family loved him right along with his readers and we are all hurting very deeply right now.”
A native of Winter Park, Ellis attended Clemson University where he ran for the cross country team. His journalism career began in college at The Tiger and he became the founding editor of Orange and White, one of the nation’s first university-associated sports magazines.
FSU graduate Jerry Kutz, who started The Osceola, a magazine about FSU sports, hired Ellis in 1981 to be editor of the publication. For a couple of years, Ellis was The Osceola’s one-man staff, reporting, writing, typesetting and pasting up the paper.
- “Steve absolutely help make The Osceola a success,” said Kutz, now vice president of marketing and communications for Seminole Boosters. “He was a freaking tireless reporter, who was adamant about beating (other reporters) to a story.
- “When you hired Steve, you got a 24/7, 365 days a year reporter. There was no governor you could put on him.”
- FSU coaches and administrators had high praise for Ellis. Legendary football coach Bobby Bowden said he regarded Ellis almost like a son.
- “He was a good writer and very accurate and how in the world he found out everything he found out, I’ll never know. He could find out anything, boy,” Bowden said. “He had a great knack for that.
- “He didn’t play favorites. He told it like he thought it was,” Bowden added. “Of course, I got a lot of grief out of it but still, I knew he was doing a job.”
- FSU baseball coach Mike Martin said he was devastated to learn of Ellis’ death. “Steve Ellis was a professional in every sense of the word,” Martin said. “He’s going to be missed by everybody in Tallahassee. His coverage of Florida State baseball was second to none and he always put the readers first.”
- Rob Wilson, associate athletic director at FSU, was working as a student-intern in the university’s sports information office when Ellis arrived in Tallahassee. They became close friends.
- “It’s really unique in the world to have somebody cover a program that long and still not have a head coach who wants to run him out of town and a fan base that’s tired of him,” Wilson said. “I think he wrote well for the reader.
- “Steve wasn’t trying to win a Pulitzer, he was trying to let everyone in Tallahassee know as much as about Florida State as he could.”
- FSU President T.K. Wetherell had visited Ellis at the hospital and spoke to him several times during the past week.
- “I’m stunned. We just lost a really good friend to this community and this university and I know this newspaper lost a valuable employee,” Wetherell said.
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