The White River Valley Herald

Richard W. Ellis



South Royalton, Vt.—Richard W. “Dick” Ellis, 91, died September 28, 2015 at the Gifford Medical Center in Randolph, following a brief illness.

He was born October 20, 1923 in South Royalton, the son of Clifford and Marjorie (Whitcomb) Ellis. He attended school in South Royalton, graduating from South Royalton High School in 1941. Dick attended the University of Vermont and the New England Conservatory of Music, studying engineering and music.

On January 4, 1942, he married Pauline “Polly” Pillsbury of South Royalton. They lived the entirety of their married life in South Royalton, where they raised their family. Polly died March 17, 2007.

Dick’s life has always revolved around music. While in high school, he organized a six-piece dance band that played throughout central Vermont. During the Big Band era, he toured with Mal Hallett’s Big Band, playing baritone saxophone all over the eastern United States. He turned down an offer to tour with bandleader Gene Krupa, choosing instead to remain in Vermont.

Dick taught music for several years in South Royalton, Randolph, Rochester, and Bethel, organizing and conducting those schools’ first bands. From these schools, he organized a big band called “The Young Vermonters,” which was the only big band in Vermont featuring students. That group played for Governor Dean Davis’ Inaugural Ball in 1969.

At one time or another over the years, Dick played alto, tenor, or baritone sax as a regular or substitute in nearly every big band in Vermont. For over 50 years, he led “The Keynotes,” a six-piece combo specializing in big band music whose members played a combined total of 22 different instruments. Dick gave private music lessons on all wind instruments in the South Royalton and Lebanon, N.H. areas.

He is probably best known for Ellis Music Company, the business he founded in 1946, to supply instruments in schools where he taught. Ellis Music now services nearly 500 schools throughout Vermont and New Hampshire and rents instruments to thousands of individuals each year.

Dick was always very involved in the town of South Royalton. He started and coached Little League and Babe Ruth baseball teams, was a member of the school board for 12 years, was on the selectboard for six years, and conducted the South Royalton Town Band for 71 years. One of his many retirement projects was founding and chairing FISH (Families and Individuals Seeking Hope), an organization whose goal was to reduce poverty in Royalton and to help individuals achieve longterm economic security, stability, and self-sufficiency.

He was a member of the Heartland Lions Club, Vermont Historical Society, United Church of South Royalton, and an honorary member of the Vermont Music Educators Association.

He is survived by his son, David Ellis and wife, Ann Greenawalt of South Royalton, Vt.; two daughters, Marti Lewis and husband, David of South Royalton, Vt., and Joan Ellis Tabor and husband, Bob of Bethel, Vt.; five grandchildren: Carol, Stephanie, Jeffrey, Emily, and Miles; two step-granddaughters, Mandy, and Kristy; seven great-grandchildren: Michael, Brie, Janelle, Brittany, Amelia, Samuel, and Colin; and six step-great-grandchildren: Kyla, Kyra, Tanner, Jordyn, Marissa, and Camden.

He is also survived by his sister, Donna Rigby and her husband, George of Fairfax, Va.; a sister in-law, Phyllis Ellis of West Newbury, Vt.; and several nieces, nephews, and cousins.

His wife, Pauline “Polly” Ellis; his daughter, Carolyn Keith; and his brother, Winston Ellis; predeceased him.

Calling hours will be held Friday, Oct. 9 from 6-8 p.m. at the Boardway and Cilley Funeral Home, 300 Vt. Route 110, Chelsea, Vt. A funeral service will be held Saturday, October 10 at 11 a.m. at the South Royalton High School gymnasium, with Rev. Josh Moore officiating. A private burial will be at a later date at the Riverview Cemetery in South Royalton.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Vermont All State Music Festival Scholarship Fund, c/o Denis Lambert, 377 US Rte. 5 N, Fairlee, Vt. 05045; or to the South Royalton Fire and Rescue Squad, P.O. Box 204, South Royalton, Vt. 05077. A private message of sympathy for the family can be shared at

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