James Reed Ellis, “Father of the Seattle Aquarium,” 1921–2019

Jim Ellis


A message from Seattle Aquarium President and CEO Bob Davidson.

We at the Seattle Aquarium were saddened to learn of the passing of James (“Jim”) Reed Ellis on December 3 at his home in Bellevue. He was 98.

Jim Ellis left an indelible mark of civic vision and extraordinary leadership in the greater Seattle region. While he never sought elective office, his 70 years of impact—always as a volunteer—as a citizen activist and community leader began after his return from Army service in World War II. Early highlights included leadership in the effort to halt the dumping of raw sewage into Lake Washington and Elliott Bay through the establishment of the Metro regional sewage authority in the 1950s and ‘60s, and the creation of Metro Transit in the ‘50s–‘70s and Forward Thrust in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

He was also a key driver on nine ballot measures, including one very near and dear to our hearts: the creation of the Seattle Aquarium with $5.5 million from a Forward Thrust bond issue, as well as parks, trails and swimming pools throughout King County. Another: the Kingdome, which made possible the Seattle Mariners and Seahawks. And another: “Lidding” I-5 through the downtown core to build Freeway Park and the Convention Center. Farmlands preservation was another important cause important to Jim: He helped establish the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, serving as its founding president and chairing its board in the 1990s.

While Jim was proud of these achievements, as he looked back in later years he expressed that the true accomplishment was being part of a community that proved it could do all these things by overcoming differences and working together.

Jim Ellis reflected the spirit of the Northwest: respectful of people and their place in nature. While he will be deeply missed, his contributions will continue to resonate in our local communities for generations to come. Every individual who celebrates our region’s natural beauty and quality of life owes a debt to his extraordinary vision, dedication and years of service.

Bob Davidson signature

Bob Davidson, President & CEO

Seattle Aquarium

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