Robert (Bob) Munroe Ellison, 67, the only African-American journalist ever to serve as president of the prestigious White House Correspondents Association, died May 24 at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C., while being treated for a respiratory illness.
Bob Ellison was born on Sept. 22, 1942, in New York City, N.Y. He grew up in the Bronx and Queens, graduating from Andrew Jackson High School in 1960. During high school he excelled in track and field and received a four-year track scholarship to St. John’s University. He subsequently broke or equaled school records for the 60-, 100-, 220- and 440-yard dashes. He was a collegiate teammate of 1968 Olympic bronze medalist Tom Farrell and competed against notable Olympic sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos.
Ellison graduated from St. John’s in 1964 with a bachelor’s in education. He taught history at Edgar D. Shimer Junior High School in Queens for five years and was director of a summer parks program for children. He also continued his passion for track by running for the New York Pioneer Track Club.
In 1969, Ellison joined the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). From 1970 to 1972 he served in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, as an evaluator for USAID education projects. He then served in Bangkok, Thailand, in the same capacity.
In 1978, Ellison and his family moved to Washington, D.C., where he became a newscaster and on-air personality for WOOK, an African-American radio station. In 1980, Ellison began what would become a long and impressive stint as the White House reporter for the Sheridan Broadcasting Network (now called the American Urban Radio Network). As the network’s White House correspondent, he covered the Reagan, Bush and Clinton administrations, providing listeners with concise reports on major issues from an African-American perspective.
In 1991, Ellison was elected president of the White House Correspondents Association, the first African-American reporter ever to hold that position. In his capacity as president, Ellison was in charge of the group’s annual spring dinner, Washington’s answer to Hollywood’s Academy Awards ceremony. Ellison broke new ground when he selected popular comedian Sinbad as the dinner’s primary entertainment to perform before President George Bush and Barbara Bush. In addition, the American Urban Radio Network filled its guest tables with the nation’s key civil rights leadership, including the late Dorothy Height from the National Council of Negro Women, the late Benjamin Hooks of the NAACP and the Rev. Jesse Jackson from Rainbow/Push.
He is survived by his brother Charles; his current wife Pamela; his former wife Diane; daughters, Michelle, Renee and Angel; sons, Robert and Michael; six granddaughters and a multitude of relatives and friends.
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