S. Ronald Ellison, a prominent Baltimore attorney and partner in the law firm of Fedder and Garten who was also active in local Democratic Party circles, died Tuesday of lung cancer at Union Memorial Hospital. He was 68.
Born and raised in West Baltimore, Mr. Ellison was a 1957 graduate of City College. He earned a bachelor's degree from the Johns Hopkins University in 1961 and his law degree in 1964 from the University of Maryland School of Law.
"Ronnie enjoyed gambling and liked telling the story that he put himself through Hopkins playing pinochle," said Joann Rodgers, a cousin who lives in Baltimore.
Admitted to the Maryland Bar in 1964, Mr. Ellison spent his legal career of more than four decades at Fedder and Garten, where in addition to being a partner, he was treasurer and a director of the firm.
Mr. Ellison's legal expertise was confined to taxation, finance and corporate cases, which he contemplated from a Star Trek and Beatles memorabilia-filled office at 36 S. Charles St.
"Ron was a very devoted, intelligent and competent lawyer, and we were proud to have him in the firm," said Herbert S. Garten, who has been with the firm since 1952 and is a partner.
"He handled many, many complex cases during his career," Mr. Garten said. "And there was no person I've ever met who was easier to get along with than Ronnie. No one ever had a problem of going to his office and asking for advice - even personal advice - and you came away with good advice."
Joel D. Fedder became acquainted with Mr. Ellison when both were taking a class at Hopkins' McCoy College.
"He was one of the brightest guys in the class," said Mr. Fedder, who joined the firm in 1958 and is also a partner.
"One of the most important things about Ronnie was that he suffered from health problems and often said he wouldn't live beyond 40," Mr. Fedder said. "He overcame significant health problems to be who he became. He never ever whined or complained."
Ms. Rodgers recalled that her cousin never discussed his personal life, and when asked about his health, disposed of the inquiry "with a shrug and a smile."
Frank DeFilippo, a political commentator, was a friend of Mr. Ellison's for many years.
"Just before Christmas, Ronnie had some chest pains and called an ambo, which took him to the hospital," Mr. DeFilippo said yesterday. "He was diagnosed with congestive heart failure but checked himself out of the hospital in order to go home so he could watch a Ravens game."
In addition to his legal career, Mr. Ellison immersed himself in Democratic politics and had been an active member of the Young Democrats Club.
He had served as campaign treasurer to former City Council President Walter S. Orlinsky and later to City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who earlier had also served as City Council president.
"Ronnie was as conservative as hell but supported liberal Democrats on the theory that the worst Democrat is better than the best Republican," Mr. DeFilippo said. "That was his political philosophy."
"He was most of all a supportive and loving person who can't be replaced in our lives," Mrs. Clarke said. "He was very powerful in the love and support he gave to so many people. He had an extended family - both young and old - and we will truly miss him."
When Mr. Orlinsky was charged and later found guilty of extorting kickbacks from a sludge-hauling contractor in the early 1980s, Mr. Ellison and Michael E. Kaminkow represented him.
After serving 4 1/2 months of a six-month term at Allenwood Prison Camp in central Pennsylvania in 1983, Mr. Orlinsky was met by Mr. Ellison, who escorted him back to Baltimore.
Mr. Orlinsky died in 2002.
"He remained loyal to Wally through all of his problems," said his former wife, JoAnn Orlinsky.
"He had served as Wally's treasurer, and unlike a lot of politicians, he never missed a filing date and kept them on the straight and narrow," she said. "Ronnie had a lot of political savvy."
Mr. Ellison was an honorary, doting and devoted "uncle" to his friends' children and grandchildren.
"Believe me, he was everyone's favorite uncle," Mrs. Orlinsky said. "He showed up for every bar mitzvah, every dance recital and special birthdays."
Louis Ellison, another cousin who lives in Owings Mills, said, "He was a tremendous friend, adviser - a true consigliere - to all of us for decades."
A longtime resident of Hopkins House on 39th Street, Mr. Ellison had large collections of classic rock 'n' roll records, videotapes and DVD sets of vintage TV shows and Hollywood movies.
"I don't know of anyone who ever got into his apartment," Mr. DiFilippo said. "He may have been a recluse behind that door, but Ronnie had thousands and thousande of friends all over the country. I remember one time when he had surgery, a bunch of them flew in from L.A."
In addition to his love of rock 'n' roll and early TV shows, he also had a taste for vintage port, which he collected and purchased by the case.
"Every Christmas Eve, several of us would get together at my house, and I'd cook dinner and then we'd finish the meal with some wonderful port," Mr. DiFilippo said. "This past Christmas Eve, we drank a wonderful 1995 Dow."
Ms. Rodgers recalled his love of a good story over wine during their weekly Wednesday dinners at such restaurants as Linwoods, Gertrude's or Oceanaire.
"At least once a year, we'd go to the Suburban House for stuffed kishka and hot dogs with sauerkraut and bologna," she said.
"Unwritten but agreed-upon ground rules for dinner: red wine and conversation about politics, other current events, politics, jokes, politics, family doings, mutual friends, politics and stories about unforgettable characters he and I knew," she said.
Services will be held at 3 p.m. tomorrow at Sol Levinson & Brothers, 8900 Reisterstown Road.
There are no immediate survivors.