ISLAMORADA, Florida Keys — In late March, as he does each year to raise awareness and funds for a cure for cystic fibrosis, Capt. Gary Ellis led a large contingent of supporters in the annual Redbone Island Walk. What he didn’t expect was to be surprised by one of the walkers, U.S. Congressman Joe Garcia of Florida, honoring him with a proclamation from the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., for Ellis’ near three decades of charity work.
One month earlier Ellis, the founder of the Redbone, was recognized in a banquet at the International Game Fish Association Hall of Fame in Dania Beach, Fla., honoring him and four other captains from the U.S., Australia and Puerto Rico.
The IGFA’s Fourth Annual Legendary Captains & Crews Awards Ceremony inducted Ellis as one of the extraordinary seafarers who has made a mark across the globe through their contributions to sport fishing by invention, outstanding catch or catches, or having set an outstanding example of their recreational angling trade.
Ellis and the others were bestowed with the Tommy Gifford Award, named for one of the greatest saltwater charter skippers of all time.
Garcia’s surprise proclamation which appeared in the Congressional Record, noted the IGFA’s tribute to Ellis, plus his dedicated efforts helping the Redbone Celebrity Tournament Series of competitions raise millions for cystic fibrosis research over its 27 years.
Ellis was presented with an impressive plaque of what Garcia stated on the House floor.
The Redbone began four years after the birth of Ellis’s daughter Nicole. The lives of Ellis, a Keys backcountry guide, and his wife Susan, took a dramatic turn upon learning Nicole was suffering from cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that affects the lungs and other organs. They were told with some care and extensive medicines, she might live to her early teens. Not persons to sit on the sidelines, the Ellis’s wanted to do more — something, anything — to help speed medical research by participating in numerous South Florida CF fundraisers.
Gary was encouraged by one of his fishing clients, baseball and IGFA hall of fame legend Ted Williams to build a CF charity event around what he knew best – fishing. In 1988 the Ellis’s began the Redbone (REDfish and BONEfish), a small local backcountry, celebrity- filled tournament in Islamorada. In their first effort they raised $16,000 for CF. With faith and encouragement from guides, celebrities, participants and sponsors, those watery Florida Keys roots took a strong hold and the Redbone grew with more events, momentum and international fame through media exposure while raising CF awareness and research efforts.
Now 27 years later having raised a total over $19 million, the Redbone has made a huge difference helping medical scientists extend the lives of over 30,000 CF patients across the U.S. like Nicole. Since 2003 Ellis and the Redbone have presented $1 million-plus checks to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, as scientists close in on a cure for a majority of the CF patients.
Today Nicole is a beautiful 29-year-old international marketing executive for Rich Products, waiting for a medical discovery for CF to be made.
For more information on this and the Redbone’s 25 tournaments across the U.S. and internationally, go to the Redbone website at www.redbone.org or phone Redbone executive director Susan Ellis at 305-664-2002 or via e-mail at [email protected]dbone.org.