Praising of a patron: Friends, family say farewell to Ellen Revelle


A crowd of hundreds shared memories and tributes Sunday to Ellen Revelle, grand-niece of La Jolla legend Ellen Browning Scripps and the widow of UCSD founder oceanographer Roger Revelle, who died May 6 of a massive stroke at La Jolla’s Thornton Hospital.

Mother, philanthropist, friend, political activist, lover of the arts, Mrs. Revelle was 98 when she died.

Those who came to remember her on Sunday filled the Sherwood Auditorium at the Museum of Contemporary Art with a range of emotions, laughter and tears. The memories continued to flow later at a reception at the Wisteria Cottage.

Janet Lister Barker summed up what everyone seemed to be thinking:

“Ellen was an amazing woman on every level. There will never be another like her.”

A native La Jollan, born July 31, 1910, Ellen Virginia Clark Revelle was a member of the first class of Scripps College, where she earned a bachelor of arts in psychology in 1931 and met Roger Revelle. They married right after her graduation and settled at what was then the small shore station of Scripps Institution ofOceanography in La Jolla, where Roger completed his doctorate in Oceanography.

They also spent time in Washington, D.C., during World War II while Roger served in the Navy, and in Cambridge, Mass., while he was on the faculty at Harvard, where one of his students was Al Gore. They returned to La Jolla in 1976.

Ellen later married Rollin P. Eckis, Roger’s classmate and friend, in 1993. He died in 1999.

Mrs. Revelle was remembered for carrying on her family’s storied tradition of philanthropy, and as a patron of the arts who donated generously to them.

“Our mother was brought up believing one should be a steward for future generations,” said son William Roger “Bill” Revelle.

He added she did that through involvement in civic organizations and by “protesting against poor and badly planned development.”

Roger and Ellen Revelle’s three daughters: Mary Revelle Paci, Anne Revelle Shumway and Carolyn Revelle, remember their mother as a woman of many and varied interests.

“She listened to opera and classical music and she loved theater and was a supporter of the La Jolla Playhouse and was an active member of a playreading group,” Paci said.

“Her philanthropic efforts sprang from her interests,” added Carolyn Revelle.

Anne Revelle said her mother was very active politically right up until the end of her life. “

Her political side

“She was always a political activist,” she said. “She cared about what happened in the world, not just in La Jolla.”

Mrs. Revelle supported President Obama and worked at Democratic headquarters in La Jolla until failing health forced her to work at home.

“She wrote thank you letters to volunteers,” Anne Revelle said, adding her mother was a warm and elegant person. “She was definitely a lady. She was charming and witty. She was an amazing woman with incredible energy.”

The organizations she belonged to covered the gamut from the La Jolla Library Association to the board of Scripps Memorial Hospital. She was a founding member of Citizens Coordinate for Century 3 in 1961, a citizens group that helped shape public policy as San Diego’s growth exploded, and was a founding member of BLOB (Ban Large Office Buildings) in La Jolla.

Supporter of the arts

La Jolla Playhouse Artistic Director Christopher Ashley issued a statement saying Ellen Revelle and her family were key supporters of the institution for more than three decades.

“Ellen Revelle helped found La Jolla Playhouse with her drive, passion for the arts, and her generosity,” he said. “The Revelles assumed leadership positions for the capital campaign, allowing the Playhouse to expand its facilities, and their philanthropic support ranged from gifts for artist housing to the establishment of a permanent endowment.

Mrs. Revelle also played an important role in the La Historical Society, where Executive Director John Bolthouse III said the members and staff consider her death “a truly enormous loss to the entire community.”

He reflected on her contributions to the society and the community, saying “one can’t help but be inspired by the legacy she’s left us.”

‘Best friends’

Scripps Institution oceanographer Walter Munk, who first met Roger and Ellen Revelle in 1939, said he and his late wife Judith held them both in high regard.

“They were our best friends,” he said. “We had enormous respect for both of them.”

When he first met Mrs. Revelle, Munk said she was quiet and “maybe a little bit shy.” “But steadily she became more self-confident and did more things on her own,” he said. “After Roger passed away, she certainly continued and became very much a person in her own right, making her own decisions … and being very generous.”

At the end of her long life, Munk said, Mrs. Revelle paced herself to remain active. “She had an interesting policy of doing one thing a day, no more,” he said, “whether that was going to the theater or seeing friends. She apportioned her energies and did not do too much.”

Campus ‘first lady’

UCSD Chancellor Marye Anne Fox said Mrs. Revelle became the “first lady” of Scripps when her husband became its fifth director of Scripps in 1950, and when the UCSD campus was founded she helped to secure housing for new faculty.

More recently, Fox said, Revelle supported Scripps’ new Robert Paine Scripps Forum for Science, Society and the Environment.

“Ellen and her family also established the Roger Revelle Chair in Environmental Science, the largest endowed chair in Scripps history,” she said.

In lieu of flowers, the Revelle family suggests donations in her memory to UCSD’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography or Scripps College in Claremont.

Remembering Ellen Revelle

Anne Revelle


“She was definitely a lady. She was charming and witty. She was an amazing woman with incredible energy.”

John Bolthouse III

La Jolla Historical Society

“Ellen Revelle was probably the greatest friend the La Jolla Historical Society ever had, and we will cherish her memory for a very long time.”

Christopher Ashley

La Jolla Playhouse

“The Playhouse was proud to name its planned giving program ‘The Revelle Society,’ in recognition of Mrs. Revelle’s passion for encouraging gifts that would ensure the perpetuity of the institution. She was also one of the most extraordinary people I have ever known, and she will be greatly missed by the entire Playhouse family.”

Marye Anne Fox

UCSD chancellor

“Mrs. Revelle was a treasured member of the UC San Diego family. Through her lifelong affiliation with our campus, Ellen helped Scripps and our community of scholars and researchers to grow and flourish. … We will forever be grateful for Ellen Revelle’s kindness and support, and the impact she had on our campus and community.”

William Roger “Bill”



“Our mother was brought up believing one should be a steward for future generations.”

Tony Hamet

Scripps Institution of Oceanography

“What impressed me most about Ellen was her grace, her poise, her dedication to her family and her sincere spirit of giving.”

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