Lewis Ellem pictured during an interview at his Woolgoolga home earlier this year.
Lewis Ellem pictured during an interview at his Woolgoolga home earlier this year.

Ellem family historian passes

DELIVERED into the world by Sir Earle Page, who would later go on to become an Australian Prime Minister, you could say Lewis Ellem was born to be a great man.

Despite not starting school until he was 10, young Lewis proved to be a bright student who excelled in all areas.

Later in life he gained a reputation as one of the State's most highly respected, progressive NSW primary school principals and classroom practitioners.

It all started on December 31, 1915, when his father rode seven miles from the family home at Kungala to the nearest telephone at Glenreagh to phone Dr Earle Page.

Dr Page assisted with the delivery of baby Lewis, the first of six boys to Arthur and Elizabeth Ellem.

While he had a rough start to life, contracting meningitis at four and then diphtheria at seven, Lewis proved his fighting spirit by beating both illnesses.

He passed his entrance exam to high school in just three-and-a-half years and went on to become a school captain at Grafton High School, dux and Citizen of the Year in 1934.

Mr Ellem then moved on to Armidale Teacher's College, marking the start of a long and illustrious teaching career.

This included teaching stints at Urbenville, Rappville, a small one-teacher school at Kennackle Creek, Gladesville Public School and headmastership at an Aboriginal school in Bellbrook on the Nulla Creek, where he also managed the Aboriginal Station from 1952-1953.

When at Gladesville Public School, Mr Ellem completed his Bachelor of Arts degree from Sydney University.

Following this achievement, he was appointed principal of a large school at Captain's Flat, Murrumburrah Intermediate High School, and finally, Grafton Primary School from 1963 where he saw out the rest of his teaching days, retiring in 1975.

From an early age, Mr Ellem was also a standout sportsman and received Blues in cricket and tennis.

He married the love of his life, Rita Moran and together they raised two sons, Gregory and Warren.

In retirement, Mr Ellem wrote three books, including an extensive history on the Ellem family.

His son Gregory remembers him to be a loving father and a man of honour and high standards.

"He had high expectations of himself and he worked hard, he loved his family, and he was very empathetic," Gregory said.

"His commitment to education and his passion to bring its benefits to all was evident. He was a man many looked up to."

Earlier this year, Mr Ellem reflected on his life in a final interview with the Coffs Coast Advocate, published on July 1, 2014.

"I've enjoyed my life of teaching; I've met some wonderful people, magnificent teachers and it's been great to follow the successes of my students," Mr Ellem said.

He credited his wife, at least in part, for his good life.

"I blame my wife being an incredibly good cook, I've always been active in sport and my daughter-in-law tells me I'm very competitive."

Mr Ellem passed away peacefully at home on Monday August 18, 2014. He is survived by four brothers, two sons, and eight grandchildren with a ninth great-grandchild due within the month.

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