Between the Dates
Roland Ellis, Jr. (1896-1992) was born into the aristocracy of ancient Macon, Georgia. He died an ancient, almost forgotten patient in the Dublin VA Hospital. This is the story of the years between his birth and death, especially as a young man, when he was a celebrated student, a saluted soldier and a highly respected newspaper writer columnist in America and abroad in the post war years of World War I.
Ellis’s father, Roland Ellis, Sr., was among the elite attorneys of the Bibb County bar from the late 19th century until his death in the early 1930s. Roland, Sr. was elected to Georgia House of Representatives and served a term as solicitor general for City Court in Macon. The senior Ellis served as the President of the Georgia Bar Association. His father’s honorary pallbearers included Georgia Power Company president Preston Arkwright and two former Georgia governors, Thomas W. Hardwick and John M. Slaton.
Roland’s mother, Virginia Hopson Ellis (1872-1960,) was the daughter of W.A. Hopson and Virginia Connor Hopson. The Hopsons were close personal friends and neighbors of Georgia’s eternal poet laureate, Sidney Lanier. In fact, Lanier grew up as the boy next door to the Hopsons. Virginia’s father, a native of Massachusetts, joined the Confederate Army and served until his service ending wound at Burgess Mill in the last autumn of the war. Ironically his brother Edward, a member of the Connecticut artillery, was killed just a week earlier.
Roland, as the only child of the Ellises, spent his early years in relative comfort with a proper and excellent education in a city which was on the cusp of greatness. He attended Nisbet-Grehsam Elementary School and Lanier High School, a few blocks away from his College Street home. The Ellis family moved quite often, living in a spacious Orange Street home above the crest of Coleman Hill west of the present day Mercer Law School in 1910 and in their own boarding house on the lower end of Mulberry Street in 1920. The family eventually moved to the northwestern suburbs on Tucker Road.
Roland was accepted for admission to the University of Georgia, where his father would serve on the Board of Trustees. But, Roland wasn’t accepted just because of his father’s status, but because of his superior intellect.
In his senior year at Georgia, Roland was among nine men selected into membership in the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa Society. Membership in the organization was the highest honor any college man could obtain. They didn’t accept female members in those days.
Roland, who had been an outstanding student at UGA from the beginning, overcame an operation to cure his acute appendicitis and many weeks of recovery at home in Macon in the middle of the year to remain in contention for the great honor.
As laudatory as his Phi Beta Kappa was, Roland’s honors at Georgia did not end. The faculty of the university voted for the valedictorian of the Senior class. Roland, who received a Bachelor of Arts diploma and sole winner of the Willcox Award for his outstanding work in the study of the French language, was among the top five nominees. It interesting to note that three of the five nominees were already serving in the U.S. Army, including Roland, had already volunteered for duty in the U.S. Army.
Commissioned a Lieutenant at Fort McPherson by the end of July 1918, Roland was sent to Fort Gordon near Augusta, Georgia. Roland was transferred to Washington, D.C. for duty in the statistical section of the Army Adjutant General’s office.
Roland Ellis, Jr. finally made it to France. He was assigned as a military representative to The American Commission to Negotiate Peace, which worked to implement the negotiations of the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles during most of the year 1919.
Roland returned home to live with his parents in Macon. He turned to journalism as a career. There were journalists in the family, most notably, his great uncle, Augustus Curran Rogers, Sr., who was the editor of the New York Herald and President of Atlantic Publishing Company.
Roland Ellis, in 1923, graduated from Columbia University in New York City with a degree in journalism from one of the country’s top journalism schools.
Ellis returned to Paris, France in 1924 to serve as Paris editor of the New York Herald and the Le Monde. Roland began writing book reviews of many of the country’s most important works. His reviews were published around the country and several in his hometown paper, The Macon Telegraph.
By 1926, Ellis returned to New York, where he served as the editor of The New Yorker Magazine. His regular column, Talk of the Town, was the paper’s most popular lead article.
During his stays in Paris and New York, Ellis became a part of the elite social scene. He was introduced a virtual who’s who in America during the Roaring Twenties. One of his golfing buddies was none other than the iconic Bobby Jones, with whom he played at the courses on Sea Island, Georgia.
Following his father’s tragic death in 1932, Roland and his mother moved to Florida, where she lived until her death in 1960.
Details of Roland’s life after World War II are nearly non-existent as far as this writer’s research can obtain.
At some time, Ellis did return home to Georgia, where he became a patient in the Carl Vinson V.A. Medical Center in Dublin. He died there on May 20, 1992, twenty four years ago tomorrow. He is buried in the family plot in Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon, Georgia.
On a trivial note, his close relative Martha Ellis’s grave is among the top tourist attractions in Macon. Her life like statue over her grave attracts the attention of thousands of visitors annually. One urban legend recounts that singer Greg Allman was also attracted and in penning one of the Allman Brothers’ early songs, he called the song, “Little Martha,” in honor of Martha, who died in 1896 at the age of twelve.