by Myrna Alexander Nickens, MD
History has been recorded through oral communication, writings on cave walls, on papyrus paper, documentation in the Bible and through millions of books where historical facts have been meticulously recorded. Our country was formed and continues to function though the discoveries, skills and innovations of many ethnic groups. African Americans, European Americans, Latin Americans, Japanese Americans, Pacific Island Americans, and of course, Native Americans all have made significant contributions to the quality of life in America and abroad.
As we celebrate Black History Month, it is important to remember that the celebration is not just about Black history, but about the contributions Black people have made to American and world history. Of course, I’m not a historian. However, I admit that I love reading about contributions –– big or small –– that people have made throughout the years to make our nation a better place for all. I was very fortunate to work with one of the leaders in medicine who did just this: Dr. Tellis B. Ellis, III.
Dr. Ellis was the first Black cardiology fellow at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, completing fellowship in 1977. He passed away last year due to complications brought on by pneumonia. It is fitting to spotlight his life’s impact during Black History Month.
Dr. Tellis B. Ellis, III was born on December 15, 1943, in Jackson, MS to legendary college athletics director, the late Tellis B. Ellis, Jr., and the late Lucinda Jenkins Ellis. Born in the spotlight by inheriting the name of his famous father and grandfather, he grew up actively involved in sports, especially football. He was a terrific athlete adept as a quarterback, wide receiver, running back, punter, and place kicker. It’s no wonder that a man of this versatility and skills set could easily maneuver being a juggling cardiologist later in his career.
In 1961, Dr. Ellis graduated from Jim Hill High School. His most memorable experience at Jim Hill was quarterbacking their first undefeated football team. After graduating from Jim Hill High School, Dr. Ellis brought his athletic talents to Jackson State University, where he was a kicking specialist and defensive ace with the Jackson State College Tigers. It wasn’t too long before he signed to play with the NFL Green Bay Packers, spending time in the Green Bay Packers pre-season training camp before he was accepted into Meharry Medical College in Nashville, TN.
A knee injury benched his athletic skills and renewed his lifelong dream of becoming a physician. With visions of athletic competition out of the way, Dr. Ellis focused on completing medical school and his internal medicine residency at Meharry Medical College. Afterwards, he completed cardiology fellowship at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. He was UMMC’s first Black cardiology fellow and upon completion, was also was the first Black cardiologist in Mississippi.
In September 1978, Dr. Ellis’ dream career expanded, as he and Dr. Malcolm P. Taylor, one nurse, and an office manager opened Jackson Cardiology Associates. In the early 1990s, they began efforts to recruit cardiologists to expand their practice. Over the years, their staff grew from three employees to more than 20, including one nurse practitioner. For more than 40 years, Jackson Cardiology Associates was the largest underrepresented minority (URM) cardiology group in the nation, offering quality primary and tertiary level cardiology care to its patients in an environment where patients experienced respect, courtesy, and the best cardiovascular care available anywhere in the world. Dr. Ellis impacted the lives of thousands of people, doing so without prejudice, regardless of ethnic and economic background. While he was meticulous in keeping up with the latest developments in the medical world, Dr. Ellis also was an avid fisherman who managed to squeeze in a little time for his favorite hobby. His family was a priority too, and Dr. Ellis often spent time relaxing with his wife, Dr. Rosie Brantley Ellis, son, T.B. Ellis, IV, siblings and Dr. Malcolm Taylor his lifelong business partner. In the community at large, Dr. Ellis was a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. and a charter member of the Jackson Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.
Dr. Ellis’ faithfulness and distinguished service in medicine spanned more than 45 years. His devoted service to his family, patients, and his community at large serve as a billboard today, beckoning others to take up his mantle and continue the progress toward ensuring the wellbeing of the community at large.