Jacqueline Ellis, a longtime Capitol Hill staffer who served as a mentor for many African Americans, died recently. She is being remembered by congressional leaders and her colleagues as dedicated to her work and passionate about Black issues.
Jacqueline Ellis, a longtime Capitol Hill staffer (Courtesy Photo/obits.al.com)
Ellis died Sept. 21 of a stroke, and as soon as word of her death circulated around Capitol Hill and political Washington, comments on her life and contributions flowed freely.
“It is with much sadness that I inform you that my dear friend and chief of staff Jacqueline Ellis has passed away,” U.S. Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) said in a statement. “I know this is a difficult time for everyone; Jacqui was a spiritual mother, sister, mentor, and friend to many of us over the years. Her charitable nature, her largesse of spirit, her selfless dedication to public service, and her strong faith are the well-known qualities that made us all love her.”
Ellis was born on Oct. 22, 1957 in Mobile, Ala. She graduated from Jarvis Christian College in 1980 and then assumed her career in public service.
In addition to Green, Ellis worked for U.S. Rep. Edolphus Towns of New York City for many years and did a stint with U.S. Sen. Howell Heflin of Alabama. She was a founder of the Organization of African American Administrative Assistants and Chiefs of Staff, on the national board of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and was a force with the National Congress of Black Women (NCBW) and the Bethune-DeBois Institute.
Democratic National Committee interim chairman Donna Brazile knew Ellis for decades. She and Ellis were chief of staffs for D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and (D) and Towns, respectively. Brazile said Ellis was a trailblazer who cared about people.
“Jacqui was one of the first Black women to serve as a chief of staff on Capitol Hill and she quietly and patiently held the door open so that others could follow in her footsteps,” Brazile told the AFRO. “A proud Democrat, she gave voice to the voiceless, and believed in her soul that we must work together to open the vaults of opportunity, lift up the least of our brothers and sisters, and make our communities and streets safer for every child no matter their zip code.”
U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, called Ellis a “beloved mentor, friend, colleague, and sister” while A. Shuanise Washington, the president and CEO of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation said Ellis “was widely known for her diplomacy and commitment to social justice.”
“She was enormously respected by members of the Congressional Black Caucus and members on both sides of the aisle for her intellect, integrity, and institutional knowledge,” Washington said.
Dr. E. Faye Williams, the president and CEO of the National Coalition of Black Women, told the AFRO that she was a beneficiary of Ellis’s institutional knowledge. “Jacqui was one of the more senior of the African-American staff members on Capitol Hill in the 1980s and the 1990s,” Williams, who worked for then U.S. Rep. Mervyn Dymally in the 1990s, said. “She was one you could reach out to for advice if you needed it. She was especially there to help young people.”
Williams was no stranger to Ellis when she joined Dymally’s staff. Both were members of Delta Sigma Theta and played crucial roles in the development of the NCBW. “When Dr. C. Delores Tucker was chair of the NCBW, relied heavily on Jacqui greatly,” she said.
One of the young professionals Ellis touched was Darrel Thompson, who worked as the chief of staff for U.S. Senate candidate Barack Obama in 2004 and on Capitol Hill as a key aide for then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Rep. Richard Gephardt when he served as House Democratic Leader. “Jacqui was a delight to know,” Thompson told the AFRO. “She knew her way around Capitol Hill and helped people in any way that she could. She will be sorely missed.”
Paul Brathwaite, a former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus, remembers Ellis as “a wonderful woman.”
“She worked very hard on her job and she helped groom young staffers, Brathwaite told the AFRO.” She was a good listener and had a willing ear and a willing spirit.”
A memorial service was held Sept. 20 at the Reid Temple AME Church in Glendale, Md., and a homegoing service will take place on Oct. 8 at the Union Missionary Baptist Church in Mobile, Ala.