Cold temperatures and a windswept mix of freezing rain and snow didn’t stop family, friends or former colleagues of the late county’s fire and emergency services chief Kenneth B. Ellerbe from attending his “Celebration of Life” service in DC on Saturday Armory, March 12.
“I wanted to be here for Kenny,” said DC Councilor Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7), who hired Ellerbe as mayor in 2011 as his fire and rescue chief. “He was always Kenny to me. Kenny, we want you to know that we love you. I was happy to appoint Ellerbe as boss.”
Ellerbe died on February 27. His brother Kelton, who didn’t share the cause of Ellerbe’s death at the service, said, “He was a healthy person” and “an angel came down from heaven while Kenny was napping and told him it’s your time.”
Ellerbe served as fire and rescue chief in the Gray administration until retiring from government service in 2014. Overall, he had a 32-year career with the district’s Fire and Emergency Services Department, even serving as an interim chief during the Williams administration for a few months. He also served as a fire chief in Sarasota, Florida from 2009 to 2011.
A district native, Ellerbe graduated from Coolidge High School and received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of the District of Columbia.
memory of ‘kenny’
Gray said his appointment of Ellerbe was for both professional and personal reasons.
“I knew Kenny was going to Sarasota, and when I became mayor, I said to him, ‘It’s time for you to come home,'” he said. “Kenny was one of the most accomplished and dedicated people I knew. He was the perfect fireman.”
DC Mayor Muriel Bowser offered her condolences as the city’s elected leader.
“I express my condolences to the Ellerbe family,” said the mayor. “I offer my condolences to all DC government employees and those who have been in the Gray administration and my own. Kenneth was a beloved brother, neighbor and boss. So many lives have been changed by Chief Ellerbe.”
Bowser cited Khalid Naji-Allah, her chief photographer, as an example of someone Ellerbe had touched. Naji-Allah, a former Washington Informer photographer, received national praise for his photo of the Black Lives Matter Plaza in downtown Washington. As a result, his photo was given a place in the National Gallery last year.
“Chief Ellerbe hired Khalid for the fire department last year,” she said. “Ellerbe saw Khalid as someone who needed a second chance – someone who needed guidance.”
Nicolas Majette, the district’s Contract Appeals Board administrative judge, spoke of his close friendship with Ellerbe and their shared love of water activities such as scuba diving (Ellerbe) and snorkeling (Majette).
“Ken was a versatile person who was respected by everyone,” Majette said.
DC Fire and Rescue Chief John A. Donnelly described Ellerbe as “a man of perseverance,” and Prince George’s County Fire and Rescue Chief Tiffany E. Green credited Ellerbe with mentoring her.
“When I was selected to be the fire chief at Prince George’s, he met me at a restaurant and we talked about my biggest challenges and opportunities,” Green said. “As he spoke, I took notes. I still have those notes. He knew the importance of mentoring and reaching out to help others.”
In addition, DC Police Chief Robert J. Contee III and University of the District of Columbia President Robert Mason sent letters of condolence to the family, which were read aloud during the service.
In his “Message of Hope,” Rev. Porter L. Lawson, Sr., of From the Heart Church Ministries said that Ellerbe had a “life of great impact.”
“There’s a season for everything,” Lawson said. “There is a time to be born and a time to die. There is a time to plant and a time to pick. God has given us a time for His purpose and for the benefit of others. Kenneth was a servant. He has gone to a better place.”
The fire and rescue services administered the service with their members in their formal uniforms. The pallbearers consisted of the staff of the department. Members of the detachment stood at attention in the snow as the coffin left the armory and pallbearers loaded it into the funeral limousine.
Ellerbe’s remains are with the celebration of life at Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Suitland, Md.