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Leslie Ellis

Leslie Ellis

African-American Army Veteran and Medical Researcher

Born: Richmond, VA, United States
Heritage: African American

Study hard. Do your best. You have every opportunity to be who you want to be and do what you want to do. Set your sights high and reach for the stars.

Leslie Ellis

African-American Army Veteran and Medical Researcher

My name is Leslie Ellis. I was born many, many, many years ago in Richmond, Virginia in the year of 1927. First I would like to say thank you for inviting me here today. As I sit and see your beautiful faces, my thoughts go back to when I was your age. I must say that things are quite different today than when I was your age.

First, we had no cell phones in those days. We had a phone that was ugly and occupied space. Another thing we didn’t have in those days was refrigeration like you have today. In those days we had the old ice box. When it comes to television, we never heard of it. We did have radios. We use to gather around and listen to stories and plays.

When I was your age, in the south we had segregation. The law stated that whites and blacks had to be separated. It was difficult at times to tell who was Caucasian and who was African American. Blacks had to live in a black neighborhood and whites in their neighborhood. We had to attend separate schools. We had to attend separate restaurants to eat. We even had segregation in the military.

I went to an all-black elementary school, an all-black high school, and a mostly all-black college. I earned my Bachelor of Science degree in biology. After college I worked in medical research and then went into public health. I retired around 1980. Since retiring I’ve been doing volunteer work for the cancer society and also with committees for my wife’s memorial. My wife’s name was Jean Harris. Jean was vice president of Control Data and mayor of Eden Prairie from 1995 until she died of cancer in December of 2001.

Jean played the piano and gave recitals. One day I saw advertisements on the trees and lamp posts around the city announcing her recital at my college. I looked at the posters and thought, “She’s a pretty girl.” I attended and after the concert her mother was standing outside talking to friends. I went up and I told her mother how much I enjoyed the concert. She said, “Wonderful, are you a musician?” I said, “I am studying piano a little, plus music theory and composition.” She said, “Oh, you must come over to our house and play for us.”

I started thinking, ”Play for you. I can hardly play at all.” I went over a week later to visit, because I wanted to meet Jean. I had my music under my arm. I was late and Jean said, “Well, you were going to play for us, but mother has gone to bed. It’s getting late, but please play something for me.” I took a seat on the piano bench and positioned myself. As my wife use to tell the story, I then proceeded to play with one finger.

We dated eight years. The parents questioned our intentions, so we got married after Jean finished medical school. We had two daughters. We moved to Minnesota in 1985.

Our guiding philosophy is to treat everyone on equal terms. It was our obligation to reach back and pull someone else forward. We felt we were lucky to have been able to achieve whatever we did.

Notation: Download PDF

Changes (Ballad of Leslie Ellis)

Honoring Leslie Ellis

Changes (Ballad of Leslie Ellis)

My, my, my, my / Set your sights high
My, my, my, my / Do your best and always try

I would like to say thank you
for inviting me
here to be with you (2X)
I was sitting, seeing your
young beautiful faces
I find that I do recall
the changes 
 through the ages
I would like to say thank you
for inviting me
here to be with you

From big ugly phones to
cell phones
Without wires
Television sets
They weren’t here yet
So we gathered around the

Sometimes I feel like I live
life as it is now and how it
used to be
When I was young there
was Jim Crow
If you were black you had
to go
to separate schools, cafes
to eat

That is why I believe,
reach back and help

Life is like a poker game
You play the hand you’re
You play to win but if you
You learn to help yourself
Identify with like souls
No matter what you do
Open up your heart and
Love will pull you through
Don’t let your life just
I’m telling you my friends
Take a calculated risk
No regrets in the end
To retain some measure
Of control over life
Don’t be a bystander
Work hard like my wife
Be you man or woman
Take care of yourself
If you are not satisfied
You can’t help someone
Big systems swallow you
Don’t let them bring you
To rise above the mundane
Keep both feet on the

Skills we develop
To help cultures progress
Our task is to identify
To make the whole world a
Do everything within your
Without a doubt
If you really want it
Be it Russia, China
Somalia, Mexico
People are just people
Look at us, it shows
The last and most important
Of my dictums is don’t miss
The fun of simply living
May your life be filled
With bliss
I would like to say thank you
for inviting me
here to be with you

Music by LARRY LONG. Words by LARRY LONG with Kristin Cayo & Jamie Peterson’s 3rd & 4th grade multi-age classroom of Forest Hills Elementary School
(Eden Prairie, Minnesota)

© Larry Long 2004

Listen: Changes