Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Passing of Ellery Eells

My colleague Ellery Eells died on the 10th of this month, succumbing to an illness of apparently long duration.

I probably knew him longer than anyone in my department. (That would mean that I was the first to be able to pronounce his name: like the plural of the letter "L.") He and I were known to each other when I was a graduate student and he was an undergraduate, at UC Santa Barbara in the 1970s. I kept hearing about this brilliant senior, from whom people (quite rightly, this time) expected fine things. I remember clearly one day I was with a faculty friend of mine, Dennis Couzin, as he checked his mail. The students in his class on the metaphysics of time were handing in their term papers. Ellery's was on top of the pile. Dennis immediately, and I mean without a second's pause, sat down and read it. I said something about this surprising behavior of his, and he just said: "I want to learn the stuff!" He even read it aloud to me. The first sentence, as I recall, was a very elegant statement of sense in which time at least appears to be a series and a series, moreover, that has a direction.

Despite his considerable talents, he was, entirely lacking in the vices that often afflict extremely smart people. He was, as many have said and will say again, extremely modest and patient.

I hope you will excuse the egocentric reflection, but I keep thinking of the fact that he was seven years younger than I am. Gather ye rosebuds, and make it fast!


Melody said...

I am Ellery's sister and loved reading your comments. The "Eells" name always needed clarification on pronunciation.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I do miss him.


Lester Hunt said...

Thank you so much for your comment.

Anonymous said...

He loved to use cars as examples, but he always called them "heaps". I never knew if this was onomatopoeia, Spanish pronunciation, social criticism, and/or something else. I didn't know he had died; I am in Madison looking to meet old teachers, and he is on the list. Intuitively, though, I knew, in 2004, that he would probably not live much longer, and that made the course more difficult than incompleteness.