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To those who grew up in the era of designer coffee and Gore-Tex, Seattle is one of the most cosmopolitan, environmentally conscious cities in the country. But it was a very different place in the 1950s. Raw sewage was being dumped directly into neighboring Lake Washington. The city had few parks and no regional transportation system. The local government was weak and fragmented. James Ellis of Preston Gates & Ellis was a driving force behind the transformation. He developed his environmental awareness early: At age 15, he spent a summer living with his 13-year-old brother-and no one else-in a tent on the banks of Washington’s Raging River. His father had proposed the idea; his mother, needless to say, wasn’t thrilled with it. Ellis, now 83, made his first lasting achievement while he was still in his thirties. At the time, Lake Washington was one of the most polluted bodies of water in the country. Cleanup efforts were stymied because no single locality had jurisdiction over it. In the late 1950s, long before the advent of the Environmental Protection Agency, Ellis fought for creation of a regional authority to tackle the problem. Under its auspices, he led a clean-up that became an internationally known model for the treatment of polluted water. Ellis was just getting started. In 1966 he called for a comprehensive program of capital improvements that became known as “Forward Thrust.” A metropolitan bus system was established. Parks, the aquarium, and the Kingdome were built. His work also led to the preservation of 13,000 acres of farmland around Seattle, and he is currently the head of the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, which is trying to preserve a greenbelt along the I-90 corridor. “A real city animal. He knows how to get things done,” is how William Gates, Sr. [see profile on left] describes him. At the same time, Ellis put his municipal experience to work in his law practice. Before his retirement in 1991, Ellis was a municipal bond specialist who oversaw more than 500 bond issues. Along with Gates, he built Preston Gates & Ellis into Seattle’s biggest firm. Ellis knows that the firm must succeed before public works can be addressed. “A reasonable bottom line has to be achieved. Young lawyers shouldn’t expect to serve their favorite public causes for long at the expense of their colleagues,” Ellis says. For over 50 years, Ellis has balanced both with aplomb. Back to Main Story

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