GLASGOW, Ky. – Ronnie Ellis, an accomplished Kentucky political reporter, died Monday at a hospital in his hometown, two weeks before his scheduled induction into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame. He was 68.
His family said the cause of death was heart failure and COPD, a lung disease he had battled in recent years.
A native of Glasgow, he covered state government and politics for CNHI Kentucky newspapers from 2005 until his retirement in November of 2018. Yet he continued to write a weekly political column.
Ellis frequently appeared as a guest on the Kentucky Educational Television public affairs program, “Comment on Kentucky,” and had worked earlier in his career for the Glasgow Daily Times, The Henderson Gleaner and the Edmondson News, the latter while a student at Kentucky Western University in Bowling Green.
He took an eight year hiatus from journalism in the 1990s to work for the Ohio Valley United Way in Owensboro, Kentucky.
Ellis was one of 10 Kentucky journalists scheduled for induction into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame on March 31.
“I am greatly flattered by the recognition,” he said upon learning of the honor in mid-February. He added that covering the statehouse was “the best, and most fun, job I ever had.”
Recognized for his knowledge of Kentucky political history, Ellis often said his tenet tied to even-handed coverage of Republicans and Democrats. He had the cell phone numbers of many political heavyweights, including U.S. Senate leader Mitch McConnell.
“Ronnie Ellis earned a reputation as one of the hardest-working reporters in Kentucky,” McConnell said Monday. “He was always armed with the tough questions, and he helped set the standard for other journalists. Even when he disagreed with your position, you knew he’d treat everyone fairly.”
Speaker David Osborne of the Kentucky House of Representatives described Ellis as “a legend in Kentucky journalism. His coverage provided local newspapers throughout the Commonwealth with unparalleled access to Kentucky government and politics. However, those who knew Ronnie will also remember his sense of humor and incredible institutional knowledge.”
Bill Ketter, CNHI’s senior vice president for news, said Ellis was an exemplary political reporter and conversationalist.
“He drank, ate, slept and talked Kentucky politics,” said Ketter. “You’d sit down at a restaurant for lunch with him in Frankfort, and the pols would stop by, one by one, to talk politics. He seldom had a chance to complete a meal.”
In an interview with the Richmond, Kentucky, Register, upon learning of his selection for the Hall of Fame, Ellis described his experience this way: “I got to talk to interesting people. Some of them were scoundrels. There weren’t too many saints, but most of them were trying to do the right thing.”
Ellis is survived by his son, John “Jack” Ellis, his daughter, Scottie Ellis, who is an administrative assistant to Gov. Andy Beshear, and his grandson, Ollie Ellis Garcia.
His family said a memorial service will be held at a later date because of the coronavirus crisis. They asked that donations in his memory be sent to the University of Kentucky’s Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at tinyurl.com/rp7qknu.