COLUMBIA — Although Dr. Ellis Ingram is retiring from the MU School of Medicine on Jan. 1, his office will stay open to anyone who needs him.
"I’m not going anywhere. I still want to be a resource," Ingram said. "I want to make sure I’m accessible to the students."
During Ingram's almost 40 years at MU, he has become known for his open-door policy that welcomes both students and faculty to come in and chat, said Dr. Les Hall, interim dean of the medical school. His dedication to students, warmth and leadership set him apart, said Dr. Lester Layfield, chairman of the Pathology and Anatomical Sciences Department.
"He has a gentle demeanor about him, but a strength of conviction when he speaks," said Hall, who has known Ingram for 15 years. "He has become an opinion leader for the entire campus."
Ingram is the senior associate dean for diversity and inclusion, associate medical director of MU Health Care's Cytopathology Laboratory, and associate professor of pathology and anatomical sciences. He went to MU to complete his residency in 1974 and stayed throughout his medical career.
He will retire from his positions in the Pathology and Anatomical Sciences Department on Jan. 1 and work part time for the dean's office until his position is filled. He is applying for emeritus status so that he can keep his university office.
Ingram joined MU at a time when few minorities were represented on the faculty. Even before he was appointed to the diversity post, Ingram worked "in his very quiet and professional way" to create a culture that welcomes everyone, Hall said.
One of Ingram's favorite memories from his time at MU is sitting with other minority faculty in the chancellor's residence discussing diversity issues in the 1970s.
"He was a trailblazer," Hall said. "He said, 'I'm going to move to Columbia and make a difference.'|"
And he did. The number of African-American faculty in the School of Medicine has doubled in the past four years, Hall said.
"We're losing a great advocate for inclusiveness in medicine, both in teaching and practice," Layfield said.
Ingram also mentored hundreds of students, guiding them through career plans, life choices, family problems and plans for community improvement. Some of those students drove from Kansas City and other cities to attend his retirement celebration, Hall said.
Ingram has won multiple local and national awards for his mentoring and teaching, including the Presidential Award for Mentoring Excellence in 2003 from President George W. Bush.
"It's just my life," he said. "I define mentoring as having an ongoing positive influence on someone through a relationship. And that is what my life is about."
This support is especially important for students who don't have much support at home, Ingram said.
"You can instill in them a greater vision of who they can become and what they can do for the community," he said.
Once he's retired, Ingram will have more time to work with the organizations and students that previously had to wait until after work. When not working at MU, he tutors children at Granny's House, runs a science club for middle school students and mentors pre-med undergraduates.
"I'm 64, and, well, of course you could work forever, but there’s a lot of work in the community that I want to devote more time to," he said.
Hall said one of his favorite memories of Ingram is when he found Ingram in the medical school one Saturday working with high school students and community leaders to identify Columbia's health problems.
Ingram doesn't mind spending part of his weekend at school. He just wants the next generation to be interested in science.
"You can give a heart to a 10-year-old kid and see them think they can become a heart surgeon," he said. "Those 'wow' moments are my favorite — when those students’ eyes get wide and they realize what they can be."
Ingram is not only a professor, physician, founder of a nonprofit and mentor, but also a husband and a father.
One of the things he's looking forward to after his retirement is having more time to spend with his wife at their morning prayers.
"Not many people get that many things right in their life and do it with such grace," Hall said.
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