Tufts Graduate Tapped to Lead Alumni Relations

Ed Ellison, A83, former Marine, investment banker and headmaster, looks forward to his homecoming

Ed Ellison on Tufts campus

Ed Ellison, A83, who has held leadership positions in the military, business and education, will become executive director of the Office of Alumni Relations on July 15, succeeding Tim Brooks, who held the position for 16 years before taking on a new role in University Advancement last fall.

Ellison comes back to Tufts from St. Johns Country Day School, outside of Jacksonville, Florida, where he has been headmaster since July 2011. He will lead a 17-member alumni relations team and work closely with the Tufts Alumni Council, the governing body of the Tufts University Alumni Association, to build even stronger relationships with more than 100,000 alumni around the world.

“I love Tufts and want to help the university in any way I can,” says Ellison, who graduated cum laude with a B.A. in classical studies. “One thing I’ve enjoyed most about my career in education is being a cheerleader, and I hope to channel my enthusiasm to encourage others to engage with Tufts, feel more connected and derive the benefits that come with being a Tufts graduate.”

Both of his parents had ties to Somerville—his father was born in the city and his mother grew up there—so Tufts wasn’t ever far afield. His parents started a family in Somerville, before moving to Dover, Massachusetts, where they raised 10 children. Ellison became interested in the classics as a student at Dover-Sherborn High School. “I loved decoding Latin. It’s formulaic, and I think you’re best served by studying a period in its native tongue.”

While he studied the past at Tufts, Ellison was also very much in the present. He competed on the varsity indoor and outdoor track and cross-country teams all four years. He impressed his teammates with a personal best of 1:56 in the half mile. He earned 12 varsity letters and was co-captain of the team that won the New England Division III championship in 1980 and 1983. “My proudest Tufts memories are when we were undefeated freshman and senior year,” he says.

He met his wife, Kathy (Hurley) Ellison, J83, during Lenten services at Goddard Chapel in their sophomore year. “It was love at first sight for me,” he says. She had just transferred from Goucher College and also ran track. They married a year after graduation and are the parents of twins, Matthew and Emily, who attend Georgetown and Stetson universities.

The couple has been involved with the university for more than 30 years, supporting Tufts Athletics, serving on their reunion committees and donating to the annual fund.

“Ed’s pride in and loyalty to Tufts, combined with his leadership acumen, will strengthen the vital connection between Tufts and our far-flung alumni, who are our most powerful ambassadors for advancing the university’s standing around the globe,” says Eric Johnson, senior vice president for University Advancement, to whom Ellison will report.

Training in Leadership

After graduating from Tufts, Ellison joined the Marine Corps—again a move not far afield from his roots. His father, a general agent with New England Mutual Life Insurance Co., served in the corps for four years and then in the Marine Corps Reserve. “I admired my father greatly,” says Ellison. “He was my first mentor and strongest advocate.”  

Ellison’s own decision to enter the military didn’t exactly take the long view. “I was a resident assistant in Houston Hall as a sophomore. Thumbing through Sports Illustrated, I came across a postcard insert that advertised a cool Marine Corps poster,” he recalls. “All you had to do was send the postcard to Major Kruger, and you would receive the cool poster. A few weeks later I was proudly displaying the poster on my dorm room door when I got the call from a recruiter who asked me to come down to the recruiting station in downtown Boston.”

The summer between his sophomore and junior years he attended six-week training sessions at Marine Corps Officer Candidates School in Quantico, Virginia. Ellison distinguished himself from more than 500 other candidates by winning the Commandant’s Trophy, awarded to the top-ranked candidate—twice.

“I saw in the Marine Corps a chance to gain some genuine leadership skills,” he says. “It turned out to be one of the greatest experiences of my life.” He served for five years, attaining the rank of captain.

Military training, Ellison says, helped form his core philosophy about leadership. “The Marines have a saying: ‘Do your job. Know your stuff. Look out for your men.’ What that means is support the mission and take care of the people on your team. Be accountable. I am naturally enthusiastic, and I can be decisive. I want results, but I’m also mindful of the process.”

After completing his military service, Ellison figured he’d pursue a career in finance. He had always been good with numbers. He earned an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School in 1991 and went into the corporate sector, working in the investment banking department of Salomon Brothers and later CS First Boston before joining the Pennsylvania manufacturing company Oak Industries, where he became vice president of operations.

But something was missing, and it was a blast from his Tufts past that helped him discover what that was. In the fall of 1998, the men’s cross-country team qualified for Division III National championships, a meet that was held at Dickinson College. Ellison lived nearby and offered his home for backup housing.

“I told coach Connie Putnam that if there’s anything I can do to help let me know. He said there were about eight kids who wanted to come, but they’re on their own financially and needed a place to stay. I said, great! Then three days before the event, he called me again, somewhat embarrassed, because the women’s team and their coach, Kristen Morwick, wanted to come out, too. In the end we had at least 28 kids in our house. It was awesome.”

In addition to the competition, the meet also included lots of discussions about job satisfaction with Putnam, Morwick and Branwen Smith-King, then head women’s track and field coach and assistant athletic director. Ellison listened up. He realized he needed, and wanted, more than what corporate America offered. “I told my wife, I want to teach and coach.”

Back to School

Milton Academy, a private secondary school south of Boston, gave him the chance. He taught math, coached the boys’ and girls’ track teams, and lived with his wife and two small children in a dorm with 44 boys. In 2002, he joined the Roxbury Latin School, where he taught math and economics, served as eighth-grade class dean and was on the admissions committee and as director of finance and operations. He also started and coached the track and field team, which won five New England Prep School championships.

In 2011, Ellison headed south, to St. Johns, where he is credited with helping to reverse a three-year enrollment decline and bolstering school spirit and faculty morale. He also rejuvenated the annual fund, increasing parent participation from 40 to 70 percent.

“It needed a shaking up,” he says. “I’m a big believer that you have to be a champion for your school if you want others to be champions, too. We built a strong team around the idea that here kids are known and loved. The teacher’s job is to work these kids hard, but also to love these kids and this school.”

Ellison is looking forward to his Tufts homecoming. “I know there is a whole lot I need to learn in this new role,” he says. “I look forward to meeting as many alumni as I can, not just those who are already engaged, but also those who are on the fence. I need to get a better sense of what’s important to them so that we can get them more involved with Tufts in the hope that they, in turn, will want to support their alma mater.”

Contact Laura Ferguson at laura.ferguson@tufts.edu.

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