Back to
Columns Magazine
Fred Ellis Sr., 1916-2010
The Father of Shaw Island

Fred Ellis
Photo Courtesy Jane K. Fox
Harvard biologist and theorist E.O. Wilson once said, "Man will be defined not by what he has created, but rather by what he has chosen not to destroy." Conservationist and philanthropist Fred Ellis Sr. modeled his life after those words.

Ellis, who died Feb. 5 at the age of 93, was one of the most tireless conservationists the San Juan Islands has ever seen. He, his wife, Marilyn, and his brother Robert purchased more than 1,000 acres on Shaw Island and 400 acres on Lopez Island—and made sure they would be protected through conservation easements and by donating large gifts of land to the University of Washington's Friday Harbor Laboratories and San Juan Preservation Trust.

Ellis—a founding member of the San Juan Preservation Trust—and his wife donated 579 acres on Shaw Island to the Friday Harbor Labs. The land, known as the Frederick and Marilyn Ellis Biological Preserve, with 2.9 miles of pristine shoreline, is managed by the UW and used for education and research.

A former teacher, astronomer and sailor, Ellis was known in the San Juan Islands as "the father of Shaw Island" for his ongoing efforts to preserve the wetlands, agricultural fields, forests with old-growth remnants and undisturbed shoreline on Shaw Island (pop. 235), the smallest of the four San Juan Islands served by the state ferry system.