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Ellen Revelle: 1910 - 2009

UC San Diego Loses A Legend

May 7, 2009

Ellen Revelle, San Diego philanthropist and matriarch of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, died May 6, 2009, at UCSD’s Thornton Hospital in La Jolla, Calif., after suffering a stroke. She was almost 99 years old.  Ellen was the wife of Roger Revelle, the late legendary statesman of science and founder of UC San Diego, who passed away in 1991.  With Ellen at his side for more than 60 years, Roger became a world-renowned scientist and is considered one of the pioneers of climate change research.

Historic photo of the Revelles
Ellen and Roger Revelle

Ellen Virginia Clark Revelle was born July 31, 1910, in La Jolla, Calif.  Her maternal grandfather was James E. Scripps, founder of The Detroit News.  She was named for her great-aunt, Ellen Browning Scripps, a founder of both Scripps College and Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.  

The Early Days

Ellen Revelle was a member of the first class of Scripps College (B.A. 1931) in Claremont, Calif., where she majored in psychology.  She met Roger Revelle there and they married right after her graduation on June 22, 1931, and settled at the small and dusty shore station of Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, where Roger Revelle completed his doctorate in oceanography. Like many of its young oceanographers, Revelle went on active duty in the Navy during the war, and the Revelle family moved to Washington, D.C.  After the war, the Revelles returned to La Jolla where Roger Revelle became director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography. In 1955 he began work to establish a general campus first known as the University of California at La Jolla, which was founded in 1960 as UC San Diego. Ellen worked closely with her husband in support of the university. She also traveled with him throughout the world, but admitted to a particular affection for Norway and Italy. The Revelles had four children, Anne, Mary Ellen, Carolyn, and William Roger.  While raising them, Ellen began a near half century of service as a trustee of Scripps College beginning in 1936.  She was an active alumna and supporter of Scripps College throughout her life.

Photo of the Revelle family with Al Gore (Photo / Victor W. Chen)
Al Gore poses with the Revelle family, including Ellen Revelle, at Gore’s left, Revelle’s four children, some of her 12 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren.

A Spirit of Giving

Ellen Revelle joined the La Jolla Play Readers as an expression of a lifelong interest in the theater, an interest that she continued through service on the La Jolla Playhouse board. She served on the boards of many San Diego organizations:  The La Jolla Library Association, The Bishop’s School, the La Jolla Art Museum, and the Women’s Committee of the Musical Arts.  She served on the board of the San Diego Symphony. The Revelle Series of the La Jolla Chamber Music Society was named in her honor. She was a founding member of Oceanids, the women’s organization at UCSD, and for three years she edited its monthly paper, "Bear Facts." She was a member of the Board of Governors of the Scripps Memorial Hospital.  She joined Lloyd Ruocco and others to found Citizens Coordinate for Century 3 in 1961, a public service citizens group that helped shape public policy on issues of growth, redevelopment and community in San Diego just as the city’s growth exploded. She was also a founding member of BLOB (Ban Large Office Buildings) in La Jolla.

The Cambridge Years

In 1964 Ellen and Roger moved to Cambridge, Mass. and Roger became director of Harvard University’s Center for Population Studies. UCSD’s Revelle College was named for Roger Revelle in 1965, and UCSD had a parade to acknowledge his founding role. On that same day, Ellen dedicated a new Scripps research vessel, R/V Ellen Browning Scripps.

Ellen Revelle and Al Gore (Photo / Victor W. Chen)
Former Vice President Al Gore greeted Ellen Revelle during a reception.

The Revelles lived in Cambridge during the turbulent years of the 1960s. Revelle influenced a new generation of students at Harvard, including Al Gore, who remembered Revelle’s lectures on the possible environmental effects of rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  In March 2009, during the three-day commemoration of the late Roger Revelle’s 100th birthday, Gore was awarded the inaugural Roger Revelle Prize at Scripps for his outstanding contributions in bringing the issues raised by environmental and climate change research to a worldwide audience. Proceeds from the event helped establish the Roger Revelle Leadership Fund at Scripps to help the institution recruit and retain the most outstanding students, faculty and researchers – an objective that was paramount to Revelle when he was Scripps director (1950 to 1964). Ellen and her family participated in the centennial birthday events. Upon receiving the award from the Revelle family, Gore said, "Ellen, I love you. Everybody here loves you. Thank you so much."

Ellen Revelle greatly enjoyed the Cambridge years.  As a member of the Cambridge Garden Club, she helped to restore the Longfellow House garden.  She also worked to welcome international students to Cambridge.

Back in La Jolla

Throughout Ellen's years in Cambridge, she kept in touch with UCSD, and the Revelles returned to La Jolla in 1976. Ellen's philanthropy began at Scripps Oceanography, where she and Roger donated sums to purchase oceanographic instruments that were beyond the means of the institution during the Great Depression.  She and Roger made substantial donations to the La Jolla Playhouse and were founders of the UCSD International Center, which named the Ellen Revelle Pavilion in her honor in 1986.  They were founders and supporters of the UCSD Faculty Club, established the Ellen & Roger Revelle Undergraduate Merit Scholarships at UCSD, and supported the Shiley Eye Center.  After Roger’s death in 1991, Ellen carried on providing funds in support of the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at Scripps, which named the Revelle Building in her honor.  When the Scripps Pier, which her great-aunt Ellen Browning Scripps funded in 1912, needed to be replaced in 1986, Ellen contributed to the new Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Pier. In 1986 Ellen and her family went back into the newspaper business with the purchase of the San Diego Daily Transcript

Ellen christened the newest Scripps research vessel Roger Revelle, named in honor of her late husband in 1995, and then at age 86 she went to sea  with her daughter Mary on its maiden voyage through the Panama Canal. Roger’s major awards and prizes were numerous. One of them, his Agassiz Medal from the National Academy of Sciences, is displayed in the ship's conference room, along with his naval officer's dress sword. Both were gifts to the ship from Ellen.

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

Roger Honors Ellen

At the dedication of the Ellen Revelle Pavilion at the UCSD International Center, Roger Revelle suggested that his wife be honored as:

…a woman of character.  We are honoring her for her gentle ways
and her strong will, her self-effacing, modest behavior, her
passionate love of justice and her generous support of many good

Ellen's Beloved Family

Ellen Revelle is survived by her children Anne Revelle Shumway of Cambridge, Mass.; Mary Ellen Revelle Paci of New York, N.Y.; Carolyn Revelle of Sausalito, Calif.; and William Revelle (Eleanor) of Evanston, Ill.; 11 grandchildren: Loren Shumway, Mark Roger Shumway, Holly Montufar, Caroly Shumway, Eric Shumway, Christopher Paci, Stefano Paci, Myra Paci, Ellen Hufbauer, Daniel Revelle, and David Revelle (Randall Hufbauer died in 1990); and 18 great-grandchildren.

Memorial Service

A memorial service will be held on Sunday, May 10, 2009, 1-3 pm, at Sherwood Auditorium at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, 700 Prospect Street, in La Jolla, Calif. (map)  In lieu of flowers, the Revelle family suggests donations in Ellen's memory to UCSD's Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif. or Scripps College in Claremont, Calif., or the La Jolla Chamber Music Society.

Donations to Scripps may be sent to the “Ellen Revelle Memorial Fund” at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, 9500 Gilman Drive # 0210, La Jolla, CA 92093-0210 or can be made online at www.givetoucsd.ucsd.edu. (Please make checks payable to the UC San Diego Foundation. To give online, please indicate "Ellen Revelle Memorial Fund" in the comment section.)


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