Ellis Berger
1935 - 2021
Ellis Berger
June 30, 1935 - April 11, 2021
Miami, Florida - Ellis, who was 85, passed away peacefully at his home in Morningside Park, Miami, Florida, on April 11, 2021. Ellis lived a full and colorful life, was a man of principle, a fierce advocate for the needy, and a rebel at heart.
Ellis was born on June 30, 1935 in Philadelphia, PA, to Herman and Emma Berger. In June 1950, the family moved to Miami Beach. While attending Miami Beach Senior High, Ellis worked part-time in the kitchen at Picciolo's, a popular Italian restaurant near the family's apartment at 3rd Street and Jefferson Avenue on South Beach.
Six months before graduation, Ellis dropped out of school to work at Picciolo's full-time. He was the bread and salad man there until 1958, when he enlisted in the U.S. Army. He became a radio operator, served in Germany (with Elvis Presley and General Colin Powell), and got his GED.
After his discharge in 1960, Ellis worked on Ascension Island in the South Atlantic Ocean. He was part of the team that tracked the first space flight, by astronaut Alan Shepard, from Cape Canaveral to splashdown near Ascension. On R&R in Recife, Brazil, Ellis overstayed his visa, was caught up in a military uprising, and spent a short time in jail.
In 1963, Ellis returned to Miami Beach and Picciolo's. (He later regularly tipped restaurant servers 50-100%.)
In 1966, under the G.I. Bill, he enrolled in Miami-Dade Junior College and discovered his love of writing and vocation: journalism. He became editor of the student newspaper and was the first recipient of the Jimmy Burns Scholarship, named after the famed sports editor of the Miami Herald.
After graduating from Miami-Dade, Ellis enrolled in the University of Miami, but once again school lost out to the real world.
In 1968, while a student intern, Ellis was offered a job by the Miami News and withdrew from UM. In his fifteen years at the News, Ellis was a reporter, an editorial writer, and an assistant city editor. As a reporter, his "beat" was the Dade County school system.
This was a time of great turbulence and change in schools in Dade County and around the country. Ellis reported on U.S. District Judge C. Clyde Atkins's ruling integrating public schools and U.S. District Judge Joe Eaton's decision limiting corporal punishment of students.
Ellis did not just report, he investigated. His articles revealed cronyism, waste and corruption in the school system. He covered Miami's Watergate connection. Lighter assignments were interviews with Muhammad Ali and Telly Savalas.
Though a person of deep humility, Ellis was stubborn on principles. His tenure at the News was not continuous; he quit five times over editors' decisions to change or not run his articles. Knowing his talents, the News always took him back. In hiatuses from the News, he was communications director for the state-wide teachers' union, the Florida Education Association, and also reported for the Sun-Sentinel. Or he worked at Picciolo's.
Ellis was respected for his fairness as a reporter even by his biggest target. After the News folded in 1988, the School Board hired Ellis as a dropout prevention counselor and student advocate and later as a career counselor at Miami Beach Senior High. Behind the scenes, Ellis wrote press releases and speeches for a Miami-Dade County Schools Superintendent. He turned down a job in D.C. as aide to the late Congressman William Lehman.
In 2002, Ellis worked for the United Teachers of Dade as assistant director for media relations and in 2003-2006 as the public information officer for the Miami-Dade Public Defender's Office.
Ellis was passionate about juvenile justice and dropout prevention. In a 1987 News article, "Dropout cure still elusive after 33 years," he wrote about himself: "no counsellor or teacher ever sat me down to ask about the problems I was obviously having. When I finally quit, no school official questioned the decision." Not mincing words as or more relevant now, another thirty-four years later, he chastised the School Board for cutbacks in hiring counsellors and psychologists and not giving teachers the time and tools to "make an impact on the dropout problem and the other crises that kids today must deal with."
And Ellis walked the walk, serving leadership roles in the Miami chapters of the ACLU and NAACP, the City of Miami Civic Investigative Panel, the Roxy Bolton Rape Treatment Center, the School Board's Gender Equity Network, and the Florida Child-Assault Prevention Team.
Outspoken about causes he believed in, Ellis was a champion of the underdog. He believed every person has redeeming qualities and deserves another chance.
Ellis is survived by his life partner, former Judge Mary Jo Francis, his sister, Suzanne Kessler, his brother, former Judge William J. Berger, his sister-in-law, Linda Berger, and his nephew and nieces, Gary Kessler, Ellen Kessler, Marla Berger, Lauren Berger, and Brooke Berger.
A memorial service will be held at a later date.
Donations in Ellis's memory can be made to the ACLU Foundation of Florida (aclufl.org) and the MIND Institute at Miami Jewish Health (miamijewishhealth.org/mind-institute).

Published by & from Apr. 16 to Apr. 17, 2021.
To plant trees in memory, please visit the Sympathy Store.
To offer your sympathy during this difficult time, you can now have memorial trees planted in a National Forest in memory of your loved one.
Add a Message

Not sure what to say?

13 Entries
Blessed to meet Ellis over 50 years ago when we were in need of a Voice of Reason in the Dade County School System. Mitch Albom could do volumes on his life, determination and generosity. He has been on my mind and in my heart for the last several months and now I know why. A true treasure. Thankful he shared himself with so many and touched my life when I needed him most. JRB
Joan Ball
July 20, 2021
I was saddened to learn of Ellis’s passing. I will always remember what a truly kind, sweet man he was. We enjoyed reminiscing about “old Miami”, - and The Miami News which he had worked for. I’ll miss you Ellis. I extend my heartfelt condolences to Mary Jo and the family during this difficult time.
Gordon Sokoloff
May 8, 2021
May your hearts soon be filled with wonderful memories of joyful times together as you celebrate a life well lived.
Ellis was always kind, witty and generous. He always loved those around him and showed deepest love for his family around him.
Jenna (Berger) Yenidounia
April 29, 2021
With Deepest Sympath
I will remember (Ellis) in many positive ways with a big big smile and a great sense of humor. RIP Brother

Michael Harris
April 28, 2021
Ellis was a kind, generous and witty spirit. While in high school I first met him. Unlike other adults Ellis always took the time to listen, care, and most importantly remind me of the importance of not taking life too seriously.
A few years would pass and we would meet again. This time I was a young aspiring reporter and he a veteran of the news biz.
Again, Ellis, proved himself to be a warm and generous spirit always willing to share his time and wisdom with me.
At the time, I was fresh out of college and unsure about the path life would take me on as a wheelchair user in a very able bodied profession, but when in his company I always felt valued and smart.
While grinding away to meet daily newspaper deadlines, Ellis, was not flashy with his prowess as a writer and storyteller, instead he had an understated sparkly confident swagger that said to young reporters like me, I got this with a wink and a wry smile.
It's been almost 20 years since I have seen you in person, but know that your kindness and integrity have remained with me. Thank you.
Rest well, Ellis...the world will be a bit dimmer without your spirit and twinkle in it.
Damian P. Gregory
April 24, 2021
He was one of the most unusual human being a friend could ever have had for the past 71 years. We grew up together on Miami Beach, played basketball often at the park, worked together at Picciolo's and where in the Army at the same time, both in Germany during the Berlin Wall crisis. As single guys after our discharged from service we rented a townhouse in Bal Harbor. Our families were original Philadelphians' and our parents were great friends for many years. I saw Ellis towards the last days and broke my heart to see him failing. His sweet nature and kind heart will always be remember to me. Rest now in peace dear friend Ellis.
Harvey- Jill Harris & Family
Harvey Harris
April 24, 2021
As the days and weeks pass, and as you return to life's routine, may you continue to feel comforted by the love and support of family and friends.
April 22, 2021
Ellis and I were great friends, working partners, traveled all over Brazil and briefly occupied a jail cell on the waterfront in Brazil. We never had a cross word and I will always count him as my best friend. Today is a sad day for me probably one of the worst of my life.
Goodbye my friend, You will be missed.
Jim Ketchum
April 19, 2021
Farewell Ellis, my dear friend.
Max Rameau
April 18, 2021
Roberta Gallagher and Sheldon
April 18, 2021
Ellis—what a treasure... his passing leaves those who knew him with such loss. We haven’t words to express just how rare a person Ellis was or what he has meant to our family... Suffice it to say that the world would be much happier & fulfilled if there were far more “Ellis Bergers” around, providing us with unconditional love, support, and thought provoking conversations & debates.
May his love of life, compassion for everyone, & steadfast wit carry on through all those whose lives he touched.
Our lives were deeply enriched through his friendship.
We send heartfelt condolences to Mary Jo, Suzie, Bill, and all of the Berger family.
Tess, Frank, & Lily Belitsky
April 16, 2021
He was a very special mentor to a younger reporter. He taught me so much and our friendship lasted a lifetime. He was a giant among journalists. Sending love to MaryJo, his brother and the rest of his family.
Annette Katz
April 16, 2021
I had the privilege of working with Ellis at UTD. So compassionate about this work, and people. He cared so much about students and social injustice. Rest in Peace, warrior.
Carmen Esquijarosa
April 16, 2021
Showing 1 - 13 of 13 results