The way Dr. Ellis Colvin ’83 sees it, almost everything he’s done in his life has been a tribute to his great-grandfather, Dolphus Colvin — 40 years of service to his country, including 21 years as a U.S. Army intelligence officer; a zest for education that includes the Ph.D. he earned earlier this year; even his next chapter launching and leading a private security company.
Now, Colvin is paying a fitting tribute to his great-grandfather with a gift to Wofford’s new Military Memorial project in his honor. The memorial will be a public space on campus that will bear the names, class years, service branches and ranks of those who died while on active duty beginning with World War I and Wofford’s establishment of a U.S. Army Reserve Officer Training Corps unit.
“I want to honor his military service,” says Colvin, “but it’s more than that. His service set in motion my service to the nation. It was predestined. It was something I knew I had to do.”
As a child, Ellis only knew his great-grandfather as a farmer who settled in Dillon County, South Carolina. He didn’t learn of Dolphus’ military service during World War I until many years later.
“I found his draft card by accident 95 years to the day after he was drafted,” Colvin says. “He was drafted into the Army on Sept. 17, 1917.”
Dolphus, who had little or no formal education, signed the draft card with an X, and someone else completed his signature, Ellis says.
Colvin participated in ROTC at Wofford and entered the Army upon graduation. After retiring, he worked for the federal government and became an expert in supply chain risk management and security. Along the way, he earned three master’s degrees and, at age 52, a law degree from the Charleston School of Law. In April, he received his Ph.D. from Capitol Technical University in Laurel, Maryland. During the final six months of his doctoral studies, he also became a certified executive coach through a program with the University of California, Berkeley.
“I don’t want to leave anyone on the sidelines,” says Colvin. “I want to give everyone the tools they need to make decisions. This is one of the things I can do to reach back, so the young Ellis Colvins out there don’t have to go through the dark alone.”
Colvin has been active in the Wofford community. As a founder and organizer of the Black Alumni Association, he helped start the 1854 Heritage Fund, which supports opportunities for current Black students. Colvin was instrumental in designating a space in the Stewart H. Johnson Greek Village — the Meadors Multicultural House — to foster inclusive programming, and he is a recipient of the Charles H. Gray ’72 Distinguished Service Award, presented by the Wofford College Alumni Association.
Colvin says he’s proud to support the Military Memorial as a way to honor his grandfather and others who have served.
“It certainly honors all the men who began the ROTC program who died in combat, and now the men and women who continue to serve,” he says. “It’s amazing to me for an academic institution to take that step.”