Famed Boston newscaster and longtime Sandwich resident Thomas C. Ellis, 86, died at his East Sandwich home on April 28, following a battle with lung cancer.
Mr. Ellis was born on September 22, 1932, in Big Thicket, Texas, to Herbert Caswell Ellis and Mary Eunice Henley Ellis.
His first job in the entertainment industry came when he took a job as a sideshow barker as a 17-year-old.
In 1951, he landed his first job in television when he was offered the chance to host the “Curtis Knot Hole Gang Club” in Fort Worth.
As the host, he interviewed local youth baseball players on the Dallas Eagles and the Fort Worth Cats before they would play their games.
Mr. Ellis attended the University of Texas, where he worked as a deejay for the school’s radio station. On-air, he was known as “Daddy Tom” and his radio show was called “High Time.” He said this past summer that his show ran during the “golden age of rock and roll,” and that he played songs from artists such as Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, and Chuck Berry.
After college in 1958, he worked as a radio reporter at a small radio station in Seguin, Texas—a small town about 40 miles outside of San Antonio. The station was called KWED and while the Lutheran and Catholic masses were airing on Sundays, he would be compiling his news reports. This job would result in his first lucky break, as he called it.
One Sunday morning, Jack Ross of San Antonio’s KONO happened to be in the area and heard Mr. Ellis’s news broadcast. Mr. Ross was impressed and offered Mr. Ellis a job—which would result in Mr. Ellis's becoming part of an award-winning news team for the first time.
A few years later in 1961, he caught his next lucky break when an anchor at KONO’s ABC television affiliate suddenly quit and he was asked if he would be interested in filling in.
“Would I be interested?” he said in an interview with the Enterprise last summer. “You’re damn right I would.”
Mr. Ellis moved to Boston in 1968, where he spent the next seven years as an anchor for WBZ-TV. He also spent three years in New York working for ABC.
During this time, he was offered a job in Los Angeles—but the woman he would come to spend nearly 50 years of his life with kept him on the East Coast. He had met Arlene Rubin on July 3, 1970, and said that his “Quincy girl” did not want to go to California.
The pair was married on March 17, 1973. This was his third and final marriage.
From his previous marriages, Mr. Ellis had two daughters—Terri S. Ellis, of Freedom, California, and Kathy D. Cornett of Hamilton, Ohio, and a son—Thomas C. Ellis of Cincinnati, Ohio. He also had five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
“Arlene put my life into focus,” he said this past summer. “Before that I was just stumbling around.”
It was Ms. Ellis who found their East Sandwich home in 1975, which is where they would stay, becoming integral members of the Sandwich community.
Since he would not be going to California, Mr. Ellis returned to Boston in 1978, working at WCVB until 1982 and then at WNEV (which has since been renamed to WHDH). He spent another five years in New York doing freelance work before returning once more to Boston in 1994 to work at the newly launched New England Cable News (NECN). He would spend the remainder of his career there, retiring in 2009 at the age of 76.
“He loved doing the news,” Ms. Ellis said about her late husband during an interview this week. “He tried to stay very neutral, giving people the facts and letting them make up their own minds about things.”
While he covered many stories over the course of his 51-year career, the one that stood out to him the most was the speech that President John F. Kennedy gave at the Aerospace Medical Health Center in San Antonio the day before his assassination in Dallas.
To describe the decision to enter the Space Race, President Kennedy told an anecdotal story of his mother’s about a group of boys in Ireland who would stare at castle ruins, wishing to go inside, but fearing climbing the wall.
One day, one of the boys threw his hat over the wall, deciding that he now had no choice but to follow.
Mr. Ellis said that the speech would forever change the way he made decisions for himself.
Ms. Ellis said her husband was known for smiling while delivering the news—something that his producers would point out and question him about, Ms. Ellis said.
“Well, of course, he smiled! What are you going to be, sour?” she said.
In his retirement, Mr. Ellis remained active in the community and could be seen moderating the annual candidate’s forum for The Sandwich Enterprise or even just saying “Howdy!” to friends in the local supermarket. He would often be seen wearing his signature cowboy boots.
He was involved with a number of charities, which included the American Cancer Society, the Boy Scouts of America, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, the American Heart Association, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and the United Way of Cape Cod.
He is a member of the Massachusetts Broadcast Hall of Fame, the New England Broadcasting Hall of Fame and San Antonio Broadcasting Hall of Fame. During his career, Mr. Ellis received many awards for his work, including Emmys and Peabody Awards.
“I had a lot of good years along the way,” he said of his life and career this past summer.
Funeral services for Mr. Ellis are pending.