The Duncan Banner

November 2, 2012

Tommie Dayton Ellis

May 19, 1929 — Oct. 31, 2012


The Duncan Banner

DUNCAN — Tommie D. Ellis was born May 19, 1929 in Madill, Texas, and died Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2012, in Duncan.

He was the oldest son of Ivey Lee and Josephine Mantooth Ellis. He grew up and attended school in West Texas, graduating from Crosbyton High School in 1946.

Funeral will be at 2 p.m. Saturday at Chisholm Trail Church of Christ.

Tommie joined the United States Army in 1946. He trained as a radio intercept officer and military policeman and served in Virginia, Ft. Riley in Kansas, and the island of Guam in the Pacific. He spent 18 months of his army service on Guam in the years immediately following World War II. He proudly stated that he served 2 years, 11 months, 19 days, 17 hours and 32 minutes in the Army, being honorably discharged in 1949.

He married Betty Jones on March 18, 1950, in Crosbyton, Texas and they shared more than 60 years of a happy marriage and family together. After getting married he attended Abilene Christian College for two years, studying the Bible and theology.

He began his career as a photographer for the Abilene Reporter News and then he moved to work for the Pampa Daily News beginning in 1953. His growing family moved to Duncan, in 1956 and he began his work as a photographer and sports editor for The Duncan Banner. Tommie worked there until 1974.

Known affectionately to all who knew him as, “Poppie,” it seemed he could fix anything. He was always working on cars, mowers and every other kind of appliance, equipment or tool. He overhauled an engine more than once for old cars driven by his kids or his grandkids. That mechanical interest and talent is what allowed him to be successful as a technical writer for Halliburton Services, retiring in 1991, after 17 years.

Never rich in terms of material possessions, he was rich beyond measure in terms of things that money can’t buy. His sphere of influence was far reaching and can never be fully known.

Tommie passed on the things that he loved to those around him. Tommie had an eye for photography. One of his photos that was picked up by the Associated Press and appeared in newspapers literally all over the world. The multitude of pictures he took of his family, friends, and church through the years documents a blessed life and now his kids and grandkids appear to have an eye for photography that originated with him.  

For others in his sphere, it was his love of the soil and nature. He achieved the status of “Master Gardener.” Poppies’ garden, which he worked for most of his adult life, shared good things to eat, not only with his family, but with neighbors, friends, and church members. It was the norm for a dinner at the Ellis home to be mostly freshly picked foods grown by Poppie. He loved his bees, the flowers and the watching the birds from his back porch. We love the soil and the land because he did.    

For still others, it was his intense curiosity about the world and his love of books, reading and the written word. He was at heart, a writer. For him, words had the power to inspire and influence. He used them for good, especially when it came to writing about young people.

After his retirement, Poppie spent years volunteering at Woodrow Wilson Elementary helping children who were struggling to read. In addition, he taught more than 30 adults who could not read that invaluable skill. Those lives will be changed forever.

He influenced us because of his love of sports. Not only did he write about area high school sports. He played sports. He coached many teams. Through his coaching he blessed the lives of countless children and adolescents. He coached Peewee football, youth basketball, wrestling and track.

At one point, Coach Ellis’ team won eight Duncan city track championships in a row. He loved to play softball, golf and, of course, loved watching any University of Texas team, although he did give birth to several OU fans, which he never quite understood. During a period of 1956 to 1996 he attended all but one Duncan High School football game, both home and away, and attended and filmed the games for many years after he left his job as a sports editor. In a string of 444 Duncan High School football games, both home and away, he attended 443. If you played football for Duncan High School, Tommie Ellis watched you play. He always believed the best about kids, not only his own, but also in others that he wrote about and watched, and that confidence that he showed gave us confidence in ourselves, no matter what our endeavor. He is a member of the Duncan Sports Hall of Fame.

For many others, he showed us what it meant to it love God, the scriptures, and the church. He served as an elder and a deacon in local Churches of Christ for more than 25 years. He served as a teacher for youth and adult classes and for church Bible Bowl teams. He hoped that some of those young men would become ministers. Although one of his early career ambitions was to become a minister, that was never to be. However, two of those young men he influenced have served as full time ministers for 50 total years of service to the church. For those of us who heard him pray publicly, we’ll miss his voice and his words as he led in worship.

A Texan by birth and at heart, he spent the majority of his adult life in Duncan. Although he had opportunities to go work for more prestigious newspapers, covering professional and college sports, making more money and becoming well known, he chose instead to make Duncan his home. He loved Duncan, and Duncan loved him.

He loved people. Rarely did he meet a stranger, and if he did, it wasn’t long before they were no longer strangers but friends. It wasn’t unusual for him to stick out his right hand and say “Hi, I’m Tom Ellis, don’t I know you?”

He loved to hear his children sing together and thought that there was no more beautiful sound on earth than that.

He was preceded in death by his parents and two brothers, Bobby and James Ellis, and a sister, JoAnn Kennedy.

He is survived by his wife, Betty; three daughters, Diane Keener, Darla Bowers, and Debbie and Rick Turner’ two sons and their spouses, David and Kim Ellis, and Richard and Denise Ellis. He dearly loved his grandchildren, Krista Keener, Heather and Leslee Turner, Blain and Evan Bowers, Kami Yakso, and Aaron and Jared Ellis. He is also survived by five great grandchildren, Noah, Cohen and Harper Ellis, Aton Bowers, and Emsley Yasko; several in-laws, Buddy and Barbara Jones, L. C. and Nellie Jones, Dean and Faye Jones, and Jerry and Babs Jones, all of Texas, and Barbara Ellis of Duncan; also a host of nieces and nephews and many longtime friends of all ages.  

When thinking about the inevitability of his passing during his last days, he said this to Mum: “While I’m not anxious to leave you and the family, I am anxious to collect on the more than 300 promises that God made to those who believe in him. Those promises are no longer promises he believed in, they are promises fulfilled.

“Why do you seek the living with the dead? He is not here. He is risen. Just as he said.” While that was said of Jesus in the gospels, it is true of Poppie as well. He saw God, and today he is probably standing next to Peter at the gates of Heaven, welcoming souls as they enter. And no doubt, he’ll stick out a firm handshake and those folks will hear that deep voice say, “Hi, I’m Tom Ellis, do I know you?”

In lieu of flowers, the family requests any donations honoring Tommie to be made to the building fund at the Chisholm Trail Church of Christ or Chisholm Trail Hospice.