Dr. Michael A. Ellis, a Baltimore orthopedic surgeon whose career spanned more than four decades, died Jan. 10 at Copper Ridge, a Sykesville assisted-living facility, of a brain tumor. He was 78.
"Mike was as good a doctor as you can get. He was kind, thoughtful and an excellent technical surgeon. He was selfless," said Dr. John Antoniades, an orthopedic surgeon who shared an office with Dr. Ellis at Saint Agnes Hospital.
"He always did the right surgery at the right time, and his care for people was an extension of his personality," Dr. Antoniades said. "He absolutely had no ego and was humble. He was the kind of guy who got you to talk about yourself."
The son of Eugene Anthony Ellis and Betty Benjes Ellis, Michael Anthony Ellis was born in Baltimore and raised in Catonsville.
After graduating from Mount St. Joseph High School in Irvington in 1957, he earned a bachelor's degree in science in 1961 from what is now Loyola University Maryland.
He was a member of the radioisotope department staff at Bon Secours Hospital from 1961 to 1962, when he left to study medicine at the University of Maryland, earning a medical degree there in 1966.
He completed his medical internship at what is now Mercy Medical Center in 1967, and from 1967 to 1969 worked as a general medical officer for the U.S. Public Health Service in Miami.
From 1970 to 1973, he completed a general surgical residency and an orthopedic surgical residency at the University of Maryland Medical Center.
He was board-certified by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons in 1974 and was named a fellow and member of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons three years later.
Dr. Ellis maintained a private practice in orthopedic surgery in Baltimore from 1974 to 1997, when he joined Orthopedic Associates of Central Maryland P.A.
In 2005, he returned to Saint Agnes Hospital, where he had been chief of orthopedic surgery from 1983 to 1993.
"Mike did a lot of difficult surgeries and was rock-solid. He had an incredible amount of energy, and when he was in the O.R., he was able to juggle a lot of different personalities," said Dr. Antoniades.
"And if you had a difficult case, he'd tell you what to do and give you a hand. He got you out of trouble and was always very encouraging, positive and upbeat," he said.
He recalled when Dr. Ellis was facing cancer surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
"It was the day before Mike was having the biggest surgery of his life, and he said he'd come into the O.R. and give us a hand," said Dr. Antoniades. "That's the kind of guy he was."
"He was a great surgeon and a great man. I was his No. 1 assistant," said Billy L. Renick, a senior physician's assistant at Saint Agnes who had worked with Dr. Ellis for 15 years.
"You never had to worry about anything when you worked with him because he had it covered. It was a fun time being with him in the operating room," said Mr. Renick. "He never raised his voice or lost his temper like some surgeons. He was a gentleman all the way around."
Dr. Ellis never retired and was still seeing patients in November.
"A lot of surgeons get into their late 50s and 60s and start to lose some of their ability, but not Mike. He continued to work as a surgeon with a high level of technical skill," said Dr. Antoniades.
"His patients loved him because he took such good care of them and made them feel good," he said. "Mike also had the unique ability to live in the moment. When he engaged you, he made you feel as if you were the only person in the room."
"He treated his patients that came from all classes the same and he treated them that way. He made them feel like they were his personal friends," said Mr. Renick.
From 1974 to the present, Dr. Ellis was an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Maryland.
His professional memberships included the Baltimore City Medical Society, Maryland Orthopedic Society, Medical Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland, Howard County Medical Society and the Eastern Orthopedic Association.
Dr. Ellis lived at Chestnut Valley Farm in Upperco, where he enjoyed riding his two horses, Doc and Speedy. An inveterate horseman, he rode in several hunts throughout the Mid-Atlantic and was a member of the Howard County Iron Bridge Hounds and the Mount Carmel Hounds.
He was a huge fan of Rheb's Candy, the noted Southwest Baltimore candy maker, which is across the street from Saint Agnes Hospital.
"Even though he was in the assistant-living facility, and he thought the end of his life was coming, he managed to send me and Dr. Antoniades Rheb's candy at Christmastime," said Mr. Renick. "My wife called and said there was this large gift of candy from Rheb's."
It was Dr. Ellis' wish to have a party to celebrate his life, said Dr. Antoniades.
"We're going to have a party with a keg of beer," he said. "Mike was a cheeseburger and beer kind of guy, which he followed with a shot of Irish whiskey."
Dr. Ellis was a member of St. Mark Roman Catholic Church, 30 Melvin Ave., Catonsville, where a memorial Mass will be offered at 5 p.m. Thursday.
He is survived by his daughter, Holly Ellis of Baltimore; two brothers, Stephen Ellis of Westminster and P. Christopher Ellis of Phoenix, Ariz.; a sister, Kathy Karfonta of Ellicott City. Marriages to the former Patricia Rehnis and Christine Martin ended in divorce.