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Resident engineer’s legacy lives on at Kentucky Lock

Nashville District Public Affairs
Published Aug. 9, 2016
Tony Ellis, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District’s Kentucky Lock Addition Project resident engineer, inspects a small vertical karstic feature in the limestone during excavation for the new lock April 12, 2012.  Ellis, 53, passed away July 27, 2016.  He is being lauded for his leadership and expertise that have been instrumental in the project’s success.

Tony Ellis, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District’s Kentucky Lock Addition Project resident engineer, inspects a small vertical karstic feature in the limestone during excavation for the new lock April 12, 2012. Ellis, 53, passed away July 27, 2016. He is being lauded for his leadership and expertise that have been instrumental in the project’s success.

Tony Ellis (Right), Kentucky Lock Addition Project resident engineer, updates Lt. Gen. Todd T. Semonite, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers commander and chief of engineers, during the general's visit to the Kentucky Lock Addition Project in Grand Rivers, Ky., June 7, 2016. Ellis, 53, passed away July 27, 2016.  Serving on the project since 2000, his leadership and expertise are being recognized for the project's success.

Tony Ellis (Right), Kentucky Lock Addition Project resident engineer, updates Lt. Gen. Todd T. Semonite, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers commander and chief of engineers, during the general's visit to the Kentucky Lock Addition Project in Grand Rivers, Ky., June 7, 2016. Ellis, 53, passed away July 27, 2016. Serving on the project since 2000, his leadership and expertise are being recognized for the project's success.

Tony Ellis (Left), Kentucky Lock Addition Project resident engineer, and Jim Niznik, technical lead for the Tennessee Valley Authority, check on the progress of construction of the upstream lock monoliths at the project Nov. 14, 2012. Ellis, 53, passed away July 27, 2016.  Serving on the project since 2000, his leadership and expertise are being recognized for the project's success.

Tony Ellis (Left), Kentucky Lock Addition Project resident engineer, and Jim Niznik, technical lead for the Tennessee Valley Authority, check on the progress of construction of the upstream lock monoliths at the project Nov. 14, 2012. Ellis, 53, passed away July 27, 2016. Serving on the project since 2000, his leadership and expertise are being recognized for the project's success.

Tony Ellis (Left), Kentucky Lock Addition Project resident engineer, escorts Adrienne Gordon, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Great Lakes and Ohio River Division, and Project Manager Adam Walker during a site visit June 13, 2012. Ellis, 53, passed away July 27, 2016.  Serving on the project since 2000, his leadership and expertise are being recognized for the project's success.

Tony Ellis (Left), Kentucky Lock Addition Project resident engineer, escorts Adrienne Gordon, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Great Lakes and Ohio River Division, and Project Manager Adam Walker during a site visit June 13, 2012. Ellis, 53, passed away July 27, 2016. Serving on the project since 2000, his leadership and expertise are being recognized for the project's success.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Aug. 9, 2016) – The resident engineer for one of the Nashville District’s largest and longest projects, the Kentucky Lock Addition Project, passed away unexpectedly July 27 from natural causes, a shocking loss to the Corps of Engineers, the district, the resident and project office teams, and many, many friends, family, colleagues, and contractors who knew and served with him.

Tony Ellis, 53, tragically passed away while on leave. Serving on the Kentucky Lock Addition project since 2000, his leadership and expertise were instrumental in the project’s success. 

Ellis’ legacy with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District will live on well into the future because of the gigantic fingerprint his leadership and involvement has left on the $874 million project to construct a new lock at Kentucky Dam in Grand Rivers, Ky., a structure referred to as the gateway to the Ohio.  When completed, the new lock will double the size of the current lock and significantly improve the efficiency and flow of the tens of millions of tons of barge traffic that transit it every year.

A civil engineer, Ellis was responsible for $300 million of construction during his tenure as resident engineer over the past 11 years.  His heart and soul went into building the new Highway 62 and railroad bridges near the dam, the first of several significant projects required to be completed so that the actual construction of the lock could begin.  He then spearheaded the initial construction of the new lock that will reduce long waiting times for barges locking through the dam and moving commerce throughout the region.

“Tony was a brave American, a great engineer and friend to many in Nashville.  He has achieved great success as a leader in construction at our Kentucky Lock office since 2000.  He will be deeply missed,” said Jesse D. Pullen, Nashville District Construction Branch chief.

 
Tony Ellis participated in an "On The Road Again" video segment with Lt. Gen. Todd T. Semonite, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers commander and chief of engineers, during the general's visit to the project June 7, 2016.

Construction of the upstream portion of the new 1,200-foot by 110-foot navigation lock began in 2010.  Ellis completed the upstream cofferdam and upstream lock monoliths.

Don Getty, project manager, worked closely with Ellis and said his incredible work ethic, character, and commitment to excellence have left a lasting mark on the Nashville District and a legacy that all his colleagues will never forget.

Recalling an example of Ellis’ determination and demonstrated leadership, Getty said he remembered when Ellis returned to the office on a Friday afternoon after a root canal to work on a $1.1 million contract modification.  He coordinated with the legal and contracting offices to have it reviewed over the weekend in time for a Monday deadline.

“Who comes back to work on a Friday afternoon after a root canal?  Tony Ellis of course,” Getty said. “A project of this nature with large construction contracts has many facets and complexities that require constant interaction with multiple parties that all have deadlines.  I never knew Tony to miss a deadline.”

Getty said Ellis leaves two major legacies at Kentucky Lock.  The first, the concrete and steel that has his blood, sweat and tears all over it, is easy to see, he said.

“The second legacy is harder to see, but it is the team that Tony left behind,” Getty stressed.  “His construction team is an experienced well-oiled machine that I know will continue his legacy of overcoming impossible hurdles to get the job done.  He truly loved them like his family and made them feel that they all had a stake in the game.”

Lt. Col. Stephen F. Murphy, Nashville District commander, echoed these sentiments.  He said Kentucky Lock Addition is one of the district’s largest and most important projects, one that is so important that recently Ellis personally briefed the assistant secretary of the Army, the Corps’ commanding general, and deputy commanding general. 

“Tony’s personal impact on the project and the people involved with it is immeasurable.  I have received calls from all over the country, from contractors and Corps employees alike, expressing their sadness at Tony’s passing. Our thoughts and prayers, and many tears, are going out to his wife Debbie and their children Anna, Allison and Avery,” Murphy said.

Murphy said Ellis was the face of the project and his team, demonstrated by his filming of an “On The Road Again” video segment about the project during a visit in June by Lt. Gen. Todd J. Semonite, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers chief of engineers.

“I will miss Tony’s leadership, professional competence, and common sense approach to problems,” Murphy said.  “He led by example and the incredible outpouring of love we’ve seen at his passing attests to that.  The success of the project and the dedication of his team are a direct reflection of the great man that Tony was.  The district is just so thankful to have had the opportunity to have known and loved a man like him.”  

Ellis graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1994 and started his career with the Louisville District at the Fort Campbell Resident Office.  He transferred to the Nashville District in 2000.  He deployed to Afghanistan in 2003, and had planned to deploy again in the coming months.

(The public can obtain news, updates and information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District on the district’s website at www.lrn.usace.army.mil, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/nashvillecorps and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nashvillecorps.)