Barnes H. Ellis “The role of a lawyer is to be a good citizen”

Lifetime Service Award 2018 

By Adair Law

The U.S. District Court of Oregon Historical Society is pleased to honor Barnes H. Ellis with its  Lifetime Service Award. This article is based on research, interviews, and conversations with Barnes and his colleagues. A briefer version of this article appears in the paper Oregon Benchmarks Fall 2018 Winter 2019.

Learning about the full, varied life of Barnes Ellis is like going to a large, happily provisioned picnic.  A big group of able cooks have filled several picnic tables to overflowing. Appetites are sharpened and curious for what will be served. A guest senses a certain enjoyment in the hard work that made the picnic happen. The hosts make sure all guests have a strong chance to get to the table. The bug bites, knocked-over glasses, and surprises are handled.  The affable company helps with the cleanup. There is a pervading sense of optimism and gusto for all of it.

Five-year-old Barnes at his grandmother’s home in Mississippi. He has just caught a rare spoon-billed catfish. Photos courtesy of Barnes Ellis.

 As the third of four children of Raymond W. Ellis and Eleanor Gwin Ellis, Barnes was born in 1940 and his negotiating skills may have started very early. Ray (1908-80) was born in Charles City, Iowa, the younger of two sons of a banker and tractor manufacturer father and a mother who played organ at the original little brown church in the vale popularized by the song “Church in the Wildwood.”  Eleanor Gwin (1912-79) was born in Greenwood, Mississippi, youngest of four daughters and one son.  Her father was a lawyer, her mother a homemaker and later a real estate developer, with a keen interest in planting large oak trees along the town’s beautiful boulevard. Ray and Eleanor met in 1930 when he was included in a group of Yale classmates her brother Sam brought for a visit to his Mississippi home.  Eleanor (or “Gwin” as she was known outside her family) was a 1933 graduate of Northwestern University in Illinois with a BS in psychology.  After Yale, Ray attended Harvard Law School, and practiced corporate law in Boston with the firm of Choate, Hall and Stewart.

During the early years of World War II, the family lived in Weston, Massachusetts. Ray commuted home on weekends from Navy officer training in Quonset, Rhode Island. He shipped out of San Diego to serve in the Pacific as an air combat intelligence officer on the staff of Adm. Felix Stump.   He played a significant role in the October 25, 1944 Battle off Samar Island. This was part of the epic Battle of Leyte Gulf,  a near-disaster for the U.S. Navy when a communications confusion left the San Bernardino Straits unguarded, allowing the Japanese Center Force under Adm. Takeo Kurita to pass through undetected. Anticipating that  possibility, during the night Ray recommended his small carrier force arm its planes with torpedoes and armor-piercing bombs that helped cause the Japanese to reverse course.  For their actions Ray was awarded the Bronze Star, and Admiral Stump was awarded the Navy Cross.