Former Assistant Dean Frank Ellsworth Passes Away

Ellsworth Wrote Law on the Midway, a Book About the Law School's Founding

Frank L. Ellsworth, a former assistant dean at the University of Chicago Law School whose book Law on the Midway chronicled the school’s early-20th-century founding, died peacefully at home on October 20. He was 76.

Frank Ellsworth with Richard Badger.
Frank Ellsworth (left) with Richard Badger.

Mr. Ellsworth, whose decades-long career included top leadership roles at colleges in California as well as teaching, earned his PhD in the social sciences from the University of Chicago in 1976. He worked as the Law School’s assistant dean between 1971 and 1979, when he left to become the third president of Pitzer College, part of the Claremont College consortium in California. At age 36, he was the youngest president ever appointed to head a Claremont College.

At the Law School, Mr. Ellsworth focused on alumni relations and development.

“He was a great colleague,” said Richard Badger, who retired from the Law School earlier this year after a 48-year career that included top roles in Law School admissions, student affairs, career services, and graduate programs. “He was always willing to consult on issues whether they were in his area of responsibility or not, and he was very attentive to our alumni.”

Added Judith Wright, a longtime D’Angelo Law Library director who retired in 2013: “I remember how popular Frank was with the students, attending student dinner parties, always a friendly, engaging person in the Green Lounge.”

Mr. Ellsworth devoted himself to meticulously studying the Law School’s early history, from the hiring of the first faculty to the University’s approach to legal education. His book, Law on the Midway, was published in 1977 by the University of Chicago Press.

“The Law School librarians really appreciated Frank’s detailed research for his book,” Wright said. “It is an invaluable resource for the fairly frequently asked questions about the founding of the Law School and the early faculty.”

Holly Davis, ’76, who succeeded Mr. Ellsworth as the Law School’s assistant dean for development and alumni relations, remembered Mr. Ellsworth as “a lovely, nice man.”

“He was a connector, kept in touch, and supportive after graduation,” Davis said.  “The kind of person you were always delighted to see.”

While on staff at the Law School, Mr. Ellsworth also served as a lecturer in the University’s Social Sciences Collegiate Division. At Pitzer, he taught political science in addition to serving as president.

“During his 12-year tenure, Frank was known for his love of students, his upbeat personality, and for his work in strengthening Pitzer financially in both budget and endowment,” Pitzer President Melvin L. Oliver wrote in an online tribute to Ellsworth on the school’s website on October 22. “He thrived on working with Pitzer students, alums, faculty, and staff.”

After leaving Pitzer, Ellsworth served for six years as the president of the Independent Colleges of Southern California and later served as interim president at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California; interim president at Sofia University in Palo Alto, California; president of endowments at Capital Research and Management Company; president of the Japan Society in New York; and founder and chairman of the board of Global Partners Institute, among other roles.

In addition to his PhD, Ellsworth earned an AB in English and religion at Case Western Reserve University in 1965, an MEd in the history of education at Pennsylvania State University in 1967, and an MA in language and literature at Columbia University in 1969. He received honorary degrees from the Art Center College of Design, Southwestern University School of Law, and Pepperdine University.