By A. Larry Ross, Special to ASSIST News Service
DALLAS, TX (ANS — January 26, 2017) – Earlier this week, my wife Autumn Ellis Ross, her extended family and I, buried my father-in-law, Dr. Richard Perry Ellis, 84, one week after he passed away suddenly in his Texas home.
A lifelong minister of the Gospel beginning at the age of 16, Perry died with his Gospel boots on, pastoring a church he started in his independent living facility, where he preached weekly until the day before his death, understanding from Scripture, “You saw me before I was born and scheduled each day of my life before I began to breathe” (Psalm 138:8).
While the iconic and ubiquitous Dos Equis brand beer commercials position their pitchman as, “The Most Interesting Man in the World,” I have to respectfully disagree. Though he was a lifelong teetotaler, that sobriquet is more befitting my father-in-law Ellis, a goateed, similarly debonair gentleman who was equally humorous and outrageous, and could have been a Doppelganger for Elvis Presley in his early years and actor Sean Connery later in life. He was a downright character, who always had a twinkle in his eye, compassion in his heart and a passion for living and giving to others.
Born in San Antonio in 1932, Ellis’ long Texas heritage began when he was named after his cousin, Richard Ellis, first President of the Republic of Texas. He also had a strong Baptist heritage, beginning with his great-grandfather, Colonel Benjamin Ellis, who is listed among the founders of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
But while he may have started and finished his life in Texas, his life calling took him all over the world.
After obtaining a bachelor’s degree from Baylor University in Waco, Texas, in 1953, a Master’s of Divinity from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, in 1959, doing further graduate study at Temple University in Philadelphia, and serving as a Research Scholar at Oxford University in England for three years, where he did a study of “The Influence of American Evangelists in Great Britain During the Nineteenth Century,” he began decades of fruitful ministry for the Lord.
Ellis pastored seven Baptist churches in four states, and was also Director of Evangelism for Baptist Associations in Florida; Virginia; Washington, D.C.; Kentucky; Missouri; Maryland; Indiana; Washington; Pennsylvania; Colorado; Delaware and North Carolina. In addition, he served on the Executive Committee for several state associations and as a trustee of Partnership Evangelism.
While name recognition was never Ellis’ goal, rather he faithfully ministered to spread the name of Jesus, in the late 50s, he held a large crusade on the east coast for which his face and name were plastered all over town. It turned out, the hosting city was the hometown of the parents of fashion designer Perry Ellis. As such, the evangelist often said that he was the designer’s namesake because his mother saw those billboards and decided to name her child Perry. While unverified, it was Ellis’ story and he stuck to it.
Ellis was called as a missionary to Brazil for the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1970 to 1984, during which he was Director of Urban Evangelism for the Brazilian Baptist Convention, a Brazilian representative to the Baptist World Alliance, a professor at the Sao Paulo Baptist Theological Seminary and coordinator of a three-year Texas-Brazil Partnership Mission that planted 2,000 new churches in the urban centers of that nation.
Because of his faithfulness in preaching the Gospel throughout Brazil, the evangelist was so well known that a national men’s apparel company asked if they could use Ellis’ name on its clothing. In exchange for granting those rights, because of his size, the company made Ellis a half-dozen custom shirts each year. Corporate leadership anticipated that if the well-known fashion designer Perry Ellis ever came after them for using his name, they would assure him their Perry Ellis was a Southern Baptist Evangelist in Sao Paulo. What was important, however, was not the Perry Ellis name or brand being known, but the fact that Dr. Ellis lifted up the Name above all names – Jesus – that had a transformational impact in the lives of people across Brazil and around the world.
After he came home to Texas to retire, Ellis’ service to the Lord did not stop. He became the first Executive Director of Texas Baptist Conservatives, and taught the weekly Sunday Bible Class in the Chapel of First Baptist Church Dallas at the invitation of the senior pastor. He continued to go on preaching missions to Hong Kong, Norway, Brazil, Kenya, France, Portugal, Central America and India, and conducted Bible Tours to Europe and the Holy Land. He also had weekly television and radio broadcasts in the U.S.A. and in Portuguese in Brazil over Trans World Radio.
A giant of a man at 6 feet 9 inches tall, Ellis ran (unsuccessfully) for U.S. Congress in the Texas 17th District. His foreboding presence was a force of nature that commanded any room he entered; yet he was tender-hearted, aware and inclusive of virtually everyone in that room. Gifted with a booming tenor voice, he was a Christian recording artist with the Westminster Orchestra, the London Immanuel Choir and RCA Studios and a guest soloist in Concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London and Maracana, the world’s largest stadium located in Rio de Janeiro, as well as other venues in Hong Kong, China, India, France and Billy Graham sponsored Crusades throughout the United States.
Early in his career, Ellis formed a Youth Revival Team that led meetings and concerts across America, and would eventually preach over 1,000 evangelistic crusades around the world – more than twice as many as Billy Graham — including the major cities of Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and Brazil. While there, he directed the Sao Paulo Billy Graham Crusade, led massive choirs with Crusade program director Cliff Barrows and even substituted several times in place of George Beverly Shea to sing right before Mr. Graham’s message after the soloist fell ill. Later, he was a delegate to the Billy Graham Evangelism Conferences in Lausanne, Berlin and Amsterdam.
The driving force of Ellis’ life was his relationship to and love for Jesus, a passion for evangelism and a commitment to prayer – including daily interceding with the Lord for each family member and countless friends and associates by name in the latter years of his life. Untold souls – likely millions — will be with Ellis in heaven because of his faithfulness, and hundreds of pastors in Brazil and the United States continue to carry on in full-time ministry after hearing the call to preach under his leadership, which made him not only The World’s Most Interesting, but also placed him among the World’s Most Impactful Men, truly a life well-lived and a Lord well-served.
Photo captions: 1) Dr. Perry Ellis relaxing after spending Thanksgiving with his family this past November. 2) Dr. Perry Ellis with his daughter Autumn Ellis Ross at her son Richard’s recent wedding. 3) Dr. Perry Ellis preaching in the early days of his ministry. 4) Dr. Perry Ellis and his wife Robbie reviewing a music selection before an evangelistic event. 5) Dr. Perry Ellis at his grandson Richard Ross’ recent wedding. 6) A. Larry Ross.
About the writer: A. Larry Ross is president of A. Larry Ross Communications, a Dallas-based media/public relations agency that provides crossover media liaison emanating from or targeted to the Christian market. For more than 33 years, he served as director of media/public relations for evangelist Billy Graham — over one-half of his public ministry. His website is http://alarryross.com/.
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