Record Rewind: A couple of refuge

Rod and Nita Ellison were a formidable life-long partnership—two people of common mind who were totally committed to each other and their joint ministry.

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Roderick (Rod) Ellison was born in Sydney on December 27, 1922. After attending Sabbath school at the invitation of church members, Rod accepted the Adventist message in 1936 and was baptised in 1939.

He became a government school teacher in New South Wales prior to attending Avondale College in 1946 where he studied for the ministry and entered the organised work of the Church the same year.

On January 9, 1947, Rod married Unita (Nita) Madeline Edmunds, born in Bundarrra, New South Wales. A trained remedial teacher, Nita had graduated from the Royal Hospital for Women as a nurse-midwife in 1946 and was also a family life counsellor.

Thus began a formidable life-long partnership—two people of common mind who were totally committed to each other and their joint ministry. Headmaster of the Auburn Adventist School in Sydney during 1947, Rod and Nita soon found themselves in Papua New Guinea—for two years as a headmaster, then a year as the educational supervisor before becoming the education secretary and youth director for the Coral Sea Union Mission during 1951-55.

In 1953, Rod was ordained to the gospel ministry in Lae. During these years their two children—son Taylor Lee and daughter Sharon Denise—were born.

By 1955 the family was back in Australia—earlier than they expected because their son Lee had medical issues. Rod taught at the Adventist high school in Sydney and then at Avondale Central School from 1957 to the end of 1962. After two years as the head of the Prospect School in South Australia, the family moved to Western Australia, with Rod teaching at Carmel College from 1965 through to 1971 and then at Victoria Park School in Perth in 1972.

Rod and Nita were also involved in pastoral work, especially Family Life Education, and by 1980, supported by Nita, he was director of Safecare, continuing in that role until the end of 1982. During these busy years Rod added a PhD (UWA) to his earlier BA and BEd degrees. From May 1980 the family was back on the east coast of Australia, with Rod and Nita running the Safecare counselling program in the Greater Sydney Conference until Rod retired in 1984.

All through those years Nita had worked with Rod, often full-time, but never on payroll, as in those days the role of pastors’ wives was to support their husbands without remuneration. She had some concerns about the justice of that.

While living in Western Australia, Rod and Nita had become friends with Dr Margherita Freeman, the first Seventh-day Adventist to study medicine in Australia. Rod and Nita took on the project to write Dr Freeman’s story and, with the help of Rose-Lee Power and the Adventist Heritage Centre at Avondale College, the book Born to Serve was published in 2012.

"All through those years Nita had worked with Rod, often full-time, but never on payroll, as in those days the role of pastors' wives was to support their husbands without remuneration."

Rod and Nita’s retirement years were busy. They continued sharing the skills they’d developed over a lifetime of service together, providing training courses for conferences for around 10 months each year until 1994.

If that weren’t enough for these busy retirees, they also provided a vegetarian cooking series in the Toronto church hall in 1987 for 48 attendees—with presentations from Dr Rod Kent and his wife Dr Denise (Rod and Nita’s daughter).

Having occasionally turned their home into a refuge for church family members in crisis, Rod and Nita began to explore the possibility of setting up a women and children’s refuge. The opportunity came to set one up in Murwillumbah, so the Ellisons conducted two weeks of training for the group and Sanctuary 7 became a reality.

The Ellisons’ vision resulted in a second refuge when a widow offered her home for that purpose, and soon Southlakes Refuge for Women and Children was established not far from Avondale College. The building was named Ronita Cottage in the Ellisons’ honour. With the assistance of a grant from the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, Rod and Nita also set up a support group for single parents in the Gosford-Newcastle region. Soon 20 single-parent families with 37 children were involved—their human and emotional needs addressed and supported.

Rod and Nita were presented with the Centenary Medal, which they accepted on behalf of all the volunteers they had trained.

Rod and Nita’s son, Lee, died in February 2008 and just two weeks later on March 6, after years of fragile health, Rod died at his home in Cooranbong, NSW. Nita lived on alone until September 17, 2017.

They had always worked as a team and had 61 happy years together.


Lester Devine is director emeritus of the Ellen G White/Adventist Research Centre at Avondale College of Higher Education.