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James “Jim” Ellis cared deeply about mentoring Maine’s next generation of firefighters. And after he retired as the longtime chief in Eddington and Holden, he applied that same passion to his career in law enforcement.

Ellis spent the last 17 years of his career at the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office, where he was a lieutenant.

“Jim Ellis was the unofficial patriarch of the Holden and Eddington fire departments,” said Benjamin Breadmore, Holden’s town manager. “He trained the crews and helped to grow both departments. He was a father figure to a lot of people.”

Ellis died by suicide Monday, said Emily Maniscalco, one of his daughters. He is survived by his estranged wife, Brandy Ellis, Maniscalco and her sister Samantha Mulheron and stepdaughter Michela Malchiodi, who all live in Maine. He also had eight grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements are being made and will be announced in the coming days.

Just like the attention and care he gave to the communities he served as a first responder, Ellis was a great father — and an even better grandfather, Maniscalco said. He showed up, flowers in hand, to wish his granddaughter luck on her first day of preschool last August, she said. He has done the same for the other grandchildren.

“He was our biggest cheerleader,” she said. “He came to all our sporting events and was always there to show us how much he cared. He was a very present father.”

First responders around the state are also grieving the loss of Ellis, and many agencies shared condolences on Facebook. Sheriff’s department officers considered Ellis both a co-worker and friend, and he left an impression on everyone he met, the office said.

Ellis graduated from Brewer High School in 1983. He worked for Maine’s fire marshal’s office and the two fire departments before shifting to a career in law enforcement. Even after his retirement as chief, he returned to Eddington as a firefighter because he loved the profession, the department said on Facebook.

Ellis was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer that attacks white blood cells, a few years ago. He went through a stem cell transplant in October 2020, according to a Facebook post that Brandy Ellis shared.

People turned to Ellis for support and as a voice of reason, said Breadmore, who knew Ellis but began leading the town after he had retired as chief. 

In a statement, Sheriff Troy Morton described Ellis as a quiet man with a big smile and infectious laugh. He could not be reached for further comment this week.

“Lt. Ellis spent his entire adult life serving others in the public safety field,” he said. “Those who serve in these roles often wonder if they made a difference. Jim, you made a difference.”

Maniscalco and Mulheron have received overwhelming support since their father’s passing, which speaks volumes about who he was as a person, they said.