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An economic development leader of Columbus dies

In this January 2014 photo, Pratt & Whitney Aftermarket President Matthew Bromberg shakes hands with Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson at Pratt & Whitney’s F100 engine overhaul center grand opening. Columbus Councilor Bruce Huff is at left, and Dick Ellis, chairman of the Columbus Development Authority, is at right.
In this January 2014 photo, Pratt & Whitney Aftermarket President Matthew Bromberg shakes hands with Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson at Pratt & Whitney’s F100 engine overhaul center grand opening. Columbus Councilor Bruce Huff is at left, and Dick Ellis, chairman of the Columbus Development Authority, is at right.

Dick Ellis, former chairman of the Columbus Development Authority and a former deputy city manager, has died.

Ellis died from natural causes early Sunday morning after an extended illness, his daughter, Karen Wise, told the Ledger-Enquirer. He was 75.

In 2014, the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce gave Ellis its Volunteer of the Year award. Among the Columbus economic development projects Ellis was involved in are the new BlueCross BlueShield of Georgia operations center, the reopening of the Hostess Brands factory, the arrival of ATM manufacturer NCR and the opening of Pratt & Whitney’s jet engine overhauling center and a plant for automotive supplier AFS America.

Ellis also served the Columbus Consolidated Government as director of community and economic development.

From January 1998 to February 1999, Ellis served as a deputy city manager under then-city manager Carmen Cavezza, a retired Fort Benning commanding general. Cavezza called Ellis “qualified to be the city manager.”

“He was a very low-key guy but very knowledgeable and very much involved in projects,” Cavezza said in a phone interview. “He played a key role. I think he felt he could be doing more.”

After concluding his 15 years of service to the city with his one year as deputy city manager, Ellis became executive director of the Buick Challenge, the PGA Tour event at Callaway Gardens from 1991 to 2002. His last employer was Columbus Technical College, where he was vice president of operations before retiring in 2011.

Bob Poydasheff, who was Columbus mayor from 2003 to 2007 and a city councilor from 1996 to 2002, called Ellis “just a wonderful human being.”

“He was very active in city affairs,” Poydasheff said in a phone interview. “He was very active in bringing business into the community. … I always asked for his wise counsel.”

And that counsel was dependable, Poydasheff said, because Ellis wasn’t bombastic and didn’t hold grudges.

“He was a man of sound reason,” Poydasheff said. “... He was a man of integrity and a man of judgment. It’s just a sad day for Columbus.”

Brian Sillitto, executive vice president for economic development at the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce, echoed Poydasheff’s assessment of Ellis -- in meaning and manner -- when he led the Development Authority, which is appointed by Columbus Council.

“His impact was huge, especially in the perspective of the way Dick looked at economic development,” Sillitto said in a phone interview. “It’s the way we all should, and that’s as not just companies doing business but companies that create jobs for people so they can have a great quality of life. He was a giant.”

And this giant had a soft touch.

“He was the kind of guy that was laid back, but he had great sense of humor,” Sillitto said “I remember Dick being calm under pressure and calm when making decisions, just a good guy to be around and a great volunteer. I never saw him too high or too low. He was very even keel, and I’m sorry to hear of his passing. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Sylvia, and his family.”

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Visitation will be Wednesday from 5 to 7 p.m. at Striffler-Hamby Mortuary, 4071 Macon Road. The funeral will be Thursday, starting at 11 a.m., in St. Anne Catholic Church, 2000 Kay Circle.

Survivors include his wife, Sylvia, his daughter, Karen Wise (Olin), and grandchildren Hayley and Mitchell Wise.

Karen Wise noted her father earned a Purple Heart during the Vietnam War and served his community with similar dedication.

“He wanted Columbus to grow, and we feel like he helped get some of those things here,” she said. “He loved the city and loved working and being involved and active in economic development. That was a huge passion of his.”

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