Longtime historian Charles Ellis dies
By Becky Barclay
Published in News on February 13, 2011 1:50 AM
Wayne County lost one of the primary keepers of its history Friday with the death of Charles Ellis.
Ellis, 81, suffered severe head injuries Monday as the result of a fall and had been in a medically induced coma at Wake Medical Center.
He was a longtime member of the Wayne County Historical Association and helped start the Wayne County Museum on William Street and also the North Carolina Cotton Museum in Pikeville. He also served as chairman of the Charles B. Aycock Birthplace Commission for many years.
At the time of his death, he was collaborating on a book about antebellum Wayne County plantations with fellow historian Emily Weil.
"He had the idea for Wayne County plantations as long ago as 10 years," Mrs. Weil said. "He had a lot of information, but he never knew how to sit down and write a book. And he wasn't physically able to write a book."
So Mrs. Weil took on the task of putting the book together.
"But Charles was the inspiration," she said. "He had such knowledge in his head. We should have made him record everything. There's just nobody left who knows that kind of stuff."
Mrs. Weil considered Ellis a "very supportive friend, one who will be greatly missed. He was a unique character. He could be prickly, but he also could be quite the gentleman. His heart was always in the right place."
"He was almost like an encyclopedia of history of this area," she said. "Anything I had a question about, I could call on Charles and he knew it off the top of his head. He was wonderful that way."
John Chance agreed. The Wayne Opportunity Center director attended church with Ellis and his wife, Betty, at St. Paul United Methodist Church.
"Charles was a wonderful man," Chance said. "He certainly loved Wayne County and he loved the study of history, period. He believed in preserving the history of Wayne County and the important things that happened here.
Chance called Ellis a "very wise and practical man" and good church member.
"He was a real treasure. It's Wayne County's loss as well."
He said he was surprised that someone with Ellis' background to spend his entire professional career out of the state, then move back to his home town and put so much interest in preserving the area.
Ellis worked in Washington, D.C., and retired as a colonel with the National Geodetic Society, a branch of the government that makes maps.
"Charles never forgot who he was, where he came from and the root of this area that makes the people of eastern North Carolina who they are," Chance said.
Ellis, a 1947 graduate of Goldsboro High School, enlisted in the Navy and served during the Korean War, earning several medals.
He was a 1958 graduate of the University of Washington and pursued graduate studies in oceanography at Seattle University and the University of Washington.
He served with the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, spending more than 13 years aboard the survey ships Pathfinder, Explorer and Discoverer, where he was involved in hydrographic, oceanographic, and circulatory surveys including tides and observations in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Alaskan waters.
Wherever Ellis was stationed during his career, he also became involved in community activities, whether it involved the local schools, his church or the Boy Scouts of America. He even received a presidential citation for his efforts.
He retired in 1987 with more than 35 years with the U.S. Department of Commerce.
After his retirement, Ellis and his family moved back to Wayne County, living in Pikeville, where he served on the Pikeville Town Board and was active in St. Joseph United Methodist Church and the Pikeville Lions Club.
After the death of his wife, Elizabeth, he later married Betty Bryan Alley Lloyd and moved to Goldsboro, where he became active in St. Paul United Methodist Church, where his mother's family had been members since the 1800s.
Ellis also served on the board of directors for the Wayne Historical Commission and the Old Dobbs County Genealogical Society. He was a member of the board of directors of the North Carolina Society of Historians, the Raleigh chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution and a charter member of the Goldsboro Rifles unit of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.