‘A True Television Icon': Longtime NECN Anchor Tom Ellis Dies at 86

His wife said he had been battling cancer and passed away on Sunday night

Longtime New England Cable News anchor Tom Ellis has died at the age of 86.

His wife said he had been battling cancer and passed away on Sunday night at his home in East Sandwich, Massachusetts.

A member of the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame, Ellis worked at NECN for 15 years, from 1994 to 2009. He also worked at several other Boston stations, including WBZ, WCVB and WNEV (now WHDH).

"For four decades, Tom Ellis was THE face of Boston TV news," his bio on the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame's website reads. "He is the only person in Massachusetts broadcast history to have anchored newscasts that were number one on each of the city’s primary network television affiliates."

Ellis, a Texas native, got his start in radio before landing his first television news job at KONO in San Antonio in 1958. He also appeared in three films, including Marathon Man in 1976 and 29th Street and True Color in 1991.

He anchored his last newscast in 2008.

Many of Ellis' former co-workers at NECN shared their memories on Monday.

"RIP #TomEllis," anchor and health reporter Kristy Lee said on Facebook. "My first co-anchor @NECN 14 years ago. What a voice! Always a positive and happy presence in the newsroom. Loved the stories he shared about his long career."

"Tom was one of the first I worked with in Boston," anchor JC Monahan said. "He was already a legend and yet treated me like an equal. After every newscast, he'd walk thru the building and thank each person. I couldn't have asked for a better co-anchor. So grateful for the memories. RIP."

At the height of TV news in the 1980s, Monahan said Ellis was "ratings gold with a voice perfect for the job. Everyone in Boston new Tom. He loved people and was a consummate station ambassador. He was also physically imposing. He built a stone wall at his home. In his 70s! A. Stone. Wall. You can take the boy out of Texas but Texas never left him."

She said Ellis always had a story to tell, "and if you were lucky, you had the chance to sit with him and listen."

"Thankfully, my favorite memory is caught on tape," Monahan added. "He’s sitting with his wife Arlene at my wedding, putting all his energy, love and attention into the moment. It meant so much to me to share that day with him. Thank you, Tom. You made a difference. Thinking of his beloved wife Arlene and his entire family. May you Rest In Peace." 

Another former coworker, investigative reporter Ally Donnelly, echoed those sentiments. "Tom cared about everyone on the team," she said. "I worked weekends reporting when he would anchor. At the end of shift, he walked through the entire newsroom, on to graphics, audio and engineering shouting out, 'Great job everybody. Thank you!' He never forgot, for an instant, how many people and how much effort it takes to put on a newscast. He was a lovely person with sparkling eyes and -- always -- a story to tell."

"I am heartbroken over your passing," director Kristen Brown said on Facebook. "I am honored to have been able to direct your newscasts, but I am blessed most of all to have been lucky enough to call you my friend. Rest easy Mr. Thomas C. Ellis."

Brown said she started working weekends, and the first thing Ellis ever said to her as he thanked everyone individually for their work on the show was, "Who the hell are you?" It was classic Tom Ellis, she said.

"I was lucky enough to be able to direct the weekend newscasts that Tom anchored," Brown continued. "It was daunting as a new director having to direct for such a television icon. He always took the time to offer advice to help enhance the shows and teach me when things maybe didn’t go as planned and always supported and encouraged us when we had a really great show. I was lucky enough to become friends with him over the years and spend time at his home with his beloved wife Arlene. We lost a true television icon."

NECN anchor Brian Burnell said Ellis stood out on a Hall of Fame roster of anchors at all of the stations in Boston. "I genuinely considered it an honor to work with Tom during his time at NECN. RIP Tom."

"Back many years ago, when I was an intern working here at the station in the evenings and on the weekends, I would have to either take a taxi or hitch a ride over to the nearest T station to get back to my dorm," production specialist Ben Onthank said. "On one evening I wasn’t able to get a normal ride over to the T, and not wanting spend a small fortune for a cab ride, I was trying to decide what to do when Tom happened to walk past. One of the guys yelled out 'Hey Tom, you mind giving Ben a ride over to the T on your way home?' Tom turned, and in his southern style said 'Suuuure, come right along!' and even though I later learned it was not really on his way, he dropped me off that day and a few more times that semester. That’s just the way he was, going out of his way to help you if he could."

"This is truly heartbreaking news," said Troy Joseph, a former weekend writer at NECN. "Not only did I have the pleasure of working with him for many years, I had the distinct honor of calling him my friend. Tom Ellis was just as warm and caring off screen as he was on screen. A true gentleman and there will never be another like him. RIP my friend."

"I was talking about him to friends today," said Dustin Peterson, a former NECN director who worked weekends with Ellis. "The way he was always in the studio 30 minutes early. How he whispered through every script. How he folded the corners of each and every page so he could easily turn each one. Good memories."

Ellis is survived by his wife Arlene, three children, five grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.

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