Lee News

Lee Family Mourns Passing of Dr. Ellen French

Lee University is saddened by the recent passing of Dr. Ellen Brown French, professor emeritus and former chair of Lee’s Language & Literature Department.

“Dr. Ellen French was a wonderful teacher and mentor to me while I was a student at Lee,” shares Dr. Susan Ashcraft, Lee professor of psychology and human development. “A highly intelligent, well-spoken, passionate woman full of grace and wisdom, she was a role model for me and to many other women who wanted to pursue a career in academia. She had a knack for being hard on you, demanding your best performance, all the while encouraging and celebrating you as a student. I’m thankful for her and the influence she had on my life.”

French taught English at Lee from 1976-1990 and served as department chair from 1988 through her retirement in 1990. In 1988, French also established Lee’s Writing Center, the same year she received the Excellence in Teaching Award.

“Dr. French was the chair when I joined the Department of Language and Literature in 1988,” says Dr. Donna Summerlin, English professor and assistant chair of the department. “She was always gracious but not soft by any stretch of the imagination. She seemed to me to be a paragon of wisdom and sophistication when I came as a new faculty member. I also remember that she had a delightful sense of humor and could deliver a knockout punchline with a completely deadpan expression.”

French graduated from Bible Training School, the predecessor of Lee University, and later earned degrees from Southern California College and Butler University. Just before her 60th birthday, she received her Doctor of Arts in English from Middle Tennessee State University.

French and her husband, C.E. French, who is the founding pastor of Westmore Church of God in Cleveland, were called to missions from the start of their relationship. They left on their wedding day to build a church in New Mexico. Their mission work took them to 42 states and several countries, including India, Puerto Rico, and Santo Domingo, among others. They also served churches in New Mexico, Missouri, West Virginia, Florida, Illinois, Tennessee, and California, spanning 50 years of pastoral ministry.

She served as the executive secretary of the Church of God women’s ministries program and was instrumental in working for the ordination of women. She was one of the first women to be ordained in the Church of God.

This past fall, French was honored as Distinguished Alum of the Year for Lee’s Language and Literature Department.

“I had the privilege of working with Dr. French several years in the Research Center on campus,” shares Dr. Louis Morgan, director of library services at Lee. “I respected and appreciated her very much, and I learned much from her instruction, guidance, and encouragement, which she provided through a balance of seriousness and humor. I will always remember her laugh, fondness for hats, stories about Lee’s early days and missionary work, her tremendous kindness, and her godly example.”

French leaves behind five sons, 12 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren to cherish her memory. The funeral will take place on Saturday, July 29 at 1 p.m. at the North Cleveland Church of God Dixon Chapel. She was 98 years old.
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