Sam Ellison was born on July 1, 1914, in Kansas City, Missouri. He was raised in Raytown, Missouri, where he graduated from high school in 1930 as Valedictorian of his class. He earned his bachelor’s degree in geology from the University of Missouri at Kansas City and his MA and PhD degrees from the University of Missouri at Columbia. While at the university, Sam Ellison met Dottie, who became his lifelong companion when they were married on June 9, 1940. He taught at the University of Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy from 1939 to 1944. From 1944 to 1948 he was a geologist for Stanolind Oil and Gas Company in Midland and Wichita Falls, Texas. Ellison arrived at UT-Austin in 1948 as a Professor to begin teaching petroleum geology, subsurface geology, micropaleontology, and general geology with an enthusiasm that was his trademark. Many students thought that his tests were hazardous because he gave information that had nothing to do with the question being asked. He expected the student to be able to pick out the pertinent information needed to answer the question! Sam supervised a phenomenal 67 MA students and 6 PhD students.
Professor Ellison’s research interests were in conodont biostratigraphy, a field in which he was a respected leader. He became Chairman of the Department in 1952 and for the next 10 years he devoted his life to the improvement of the department and its resources. One achievement was to raise geology faculty salaries nearly on par with other science departments on campus. Sam was appointed to the Alexander P. Deussen Professorship in Energy Resources in 1972, a position he held until retirement.
In 1953, Professor Ellison was instrumental in founding the Geology Foundation, a fund supported over the years by contributions from alumni, industry, and friends of the department and guided by an advisory panel of leaders of various industries based on geologic resources and principles. The Geology Foundation has grown from Ellison’s visionary act to an endowed fund valued in 2002 in excess of $50 million exclusive of the Jackson School of Geosciences endowment. Endowed professorships and chairs, funded by donations to the foundation, have been instrumental in acquiring and retaining top faculty. Other funds support student scholarships and fellowships, student and faculty travel and research, and the purchase of equipment for teaching and research. All-in-all, Professor Ellison’s Geology Foundation has been a strong influence in the development of the department into one with a world-class reputation. Friends and colleagues of the Geology Foundation Advisory Council established a fund in his honor upon his retirement in 1979: the Samuel P. Ellison, Jr. Fund.
After serving as departmental chairman, Ellison continued to direct the Geology Foundation. In 1970, he became the Acting Dean of the newly organized College of Natural Sciences until the search committee found a permanent dean. He also served on many university committees, prominent ones being the Committee of Counsel on Academic Freedom and Responsibility (1968-1970) and the Energy Research Group (1972-1979), with earlier stints on university policy-making committees, including the Faculty Council, the Graduate Assembly (serving two years as chairman), and the Faculty Advisory Committee on Policy. Within the department he served several times as the faculty sponsor to the University Student Geological Society and Sigma Gamma Epsilon.
Ellison served as secretary-treasurer of the Society of Exploration Mineralogists and Paleontologists for five years, as its president in 1959, and was made an Honorary Member in 1975. In 1971, as a distinguished lecturer of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG), he spoke on “Geology of the Middle East.” The same year, he was honored by Phi Kappa Phi, a national honor society, and he was awarded honorary membership in the Dad’s Association of UT. The next year he was elected vice president of AAPG. In June 1976 he taught a short course on conodonts at the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Sam received several impressive awards in 1977: the G. H. Pander Gold Medal Award from the Pander Society and an AAPG Distinguished Service Award.
Professor Emeritus Ellison kept busy after retirement, writing a textbook on the Geology of Texas (unfortunately, never completed) and giving lectures at numerous universities. Possibly his proudest moment came when he gave the dedicatory address at his alma mater for the W. D. Keller Geology Auditorium at the University of Missouri. Walter Keller was Sam’s idol as an outstanding teacher/researcher.
Professor Emeritus Sam Ellison died on June 4, 1999, at the age of 84.