Kapa‘a man lived for the joy in surfing

Jeffrey Ellison took to surfing with a passion, said his sister Joann Ellison-Rodgers.

When he moved to Kaua‘i five years ago, already an avid swimmer, it didn’t take long for him to discover the joy in surfing. “He loved to be in and on the water,” said Ellison-Rodgers from her home in Baltimore, Md. “When his friends told me he had become a passionate surfer I was all for it.”

Ellison died Saturday while surfing at “Black Rock” in Wailua Bay on Kaua‘i’s Eastside.

“I know he was happy out there,” said Ellison-Rodgers. “I know he was doing something he loves.”

Though officials are not forthcoming about exactly what happened, it appears Ellison was having a heart-related episode while surfing and was struggling. He was pulled to the beach by a fellow surfer, and though emergency personnel worked to save him, he died at Wilcox Memorial Hospital.

He was a licensed clinical social worker employed as a therapist at the community mental health center in Lihu‘e. “I want all the islanders to know about the resource they will regrettably be missing,” said the manager of the community health center, Richard DeTucci. “He will be missed.”

Trained as a clinical psychologist, Ellison offered his quiet ways to those in need of counseling and therapy.

“Jeffrey was a very quiet person,” said DeTucci, about Ellison, 62. “I’ve been told that he was an accomplished musician who played the flute, the banjo, the guitar … he was a very well trained, bright man.”

Ellison had been living on Kaua‘i since 2002 when he moved to the island and first went to work for the Department of Education. “He was a very emotional man, not in an open way, but very sensitive to people and their human trials and tribulations,” said Ellison-Rodgers.

Educated as an electrical engineer, Ellison spent the earlier decades of his working life pursuing that career.

He had a bachelor’s degree from Drexel University in Philadelphia in electrical engineering and a master’s in electrical engineering and computer science from the University of Maryland.

He worked for the National Security Administration and then for Rockwell in California as an engineer.

“He moved away from the family … then he moved to Hawai‘i to have this solo life and did not have communication with the family,” said Ellison-Rodgers, about the man’s extended family spread from Baltimore to Los Angeles.

Ellison was married for a spell in the 1970s, but had no kids, his sister said.

Ellison-Rodgers said her brother did “a complete 180” after working 20 years as an electrical engineer, deciding to become a social worker. “He went back and got a second master’s in social work at San Diego State University,” she said. “He had this enormous flexibility.”

“Jeffrey came to me in January after he had been working for the Department of Education for the Mokihana Project,” DeTucci said. “He was a very bright man and I was eager to snap him up.”

His experience as a social worker in San Diego allowed him to take the Department of Health position. “He would provide therapy out of the clinic and provide clinical supervision to other members of our staff,” DeTucci said.

In his down time Ellison pursued his love of surfing, befriending a pack of surfers who would hit Nawiliwili and the Eastside spots. “He was a surfer … he loved surfing … it was his love in life here,” DeTucci said.

Jeffrey’s sister said he was always admired for his athletic ability and that surfing tied in with his independent nature. “He felt a great need to go off and live the life he needed to lead and I have enormous admiration that he went and did what he needed to do,” Ellison-Rodgers said. “I am so happy he got his dream and I will miss him tremendously.”

Jeffrey Jay Ellison of Kapa‘a, was the son of Dorothy G. and the late Max M. Ellison of Pikesville, Maryland; he is survived by sister Joann Ellison-Rodgers of Owings Mills, Md.; nephews Adam F. Rodgers of Los Angeles, Calif. and Jared K. Rodgers of Grafton, Mass.; he was the great-uncle of Margaret Ellison-Rodgers and Aaron Rodgers of Los Angeles, Calif. He also is survived by many cousins.

Private services will be held.

• Adam Harju, editor, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 227) or aharju@kauaipubco.com.

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