Ellis Automotive founder Jim Ellis dies at 90


Longtime Georgia dealer Jim Ellis, founder of his namesake auto group, died Friday at his Duluth, Ga., home, just weeks after his son Jimmy Ellis, the company’s CEO, died, the Ellis family said.

Jim Ellis was 90. No cause of death was shared.

All Jim Ellis Automotive locations will close Wednesday for his funeral, according to posts on the company’s website and Facebook page.

“Mr. Ellis leaves behind a lasting legacy as a Christian, business leader, friend and servant in the Atlanta community and in the automotive industry,” the family wrote in a statement. “Little did he know that his sacrifice 51 years ago, putting all he had on the line to open a Volkswagen dealership in Chamblee, would pay off in a way that would provide jobs for almost 1,700 Atlanta-area residents and result in millions of dollars contributed to people in need in metro Atlanta communities.”

Born Jan. 5, 1932, Jim Ellis worked a range of jobs in his younger years, including insurance, farm work, a milk and paper route and as a prison foreman, according to his obituary.

After studying business in college and serving two years in the U.S. Army, Ellis eventually ended up in the automotive world working for General Motors. He and his wife of 69 years, Billie Sammons Ellis, who he is survived by, cashed in their savings, her retirement fund and took out a loan to open their first dealership, Jim Ellis Volkswagen, in 1971.

That dealership grew into many, and Jim Ellis Automotive now sells 17 brands of automobiles across the greater Atlanta area. Jimmy Ellis took over as CEO of the company in 2015 until his death Nov. 5. He was 67.

Jim Ellis also is survived by two daughters who hold corporate officer roles within the company, which in a statement said is now being led by a third generation of family members following the deaths of the two leaders.

Philanthropy also was important to Jim Ellis. More than $50 million has been donated to Atlanta area organizations through the Jim and Billie Ellis Foundation.

Their son Greg Ellis, who had schizophrenia, died in 2000 at age 40. The same month their son died, the Ellises created the foundation that distributes annual gifts to charities, including those benefiting mental health.

“We enjoy doing it,” Ellis told Automotive News in 2013. “You don’t do it for the recognition but for the satisfaction of seeing how some people respond to what you give them to fill that need.”

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