Laura Ellis smiling and wearing a white lab coat that says \"VCU Health\"
Laura Ellis will begin residency training in July at University of Connecticut School of Medicine. (Photo by Kevin Morley)

Class of 2022: A birth in a blizzard in 1969 connects scholarship’s namesake and recipient

Laura Ellis received the Harry Hudnall and Mary Warren Williams Ware Jr., M.D., Scholarship, which was named for the OB-GYN who delivered her father.

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It was Christmas 1969. A blizzard was blowing through Champlain, Virginia, a rural community on the southern shore of the Rappahannock River, and a young Frances Ellis watched as her husband and other local farmers used tractors to plow her driveway. They plowed quickly in hopes that the baby she was carrying wouldn’t need to be born at home.

Frances and her husband, Benjamin Ellis Sr., eventually made the treacherous drive to the hospital, as did her OB-GYN, Harry Hudnall Ware Jr., M.D. The first-time mom was relieved to see Ware, who stayed by her side until the arrival of a healthy baby boy on Dec. 27.

Decades later, her son, Benjamin Ellis Jr., would have a child of his own. His daughter, Laura Ellis, would go on to study medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University on the MCV Campus — like Ware — with a dream of becoming an OB-GYN. During her third and fourth years at VCU School of Medicine, she would be selected for the scholarship named for the doctor who delivered her father in the blizzard of 1969.

“When I heard about the scholarship opportunity, I recognized the Ware name since I grew up in the same community as my grandmother,” said Ellis, who graduates in May. “So I called Granny and asked about the name. That was when she told me the story about ‘Old Hudnall,’ as she called him. She could still recall in detail how Dr. Ware made her feel taken care of. I thought to myself, ‘That’s the good stuff. That’s why we do what we do.’”

The Harry Hudnall and Mary Warren Williams Ware Jr., M.D., Scholarship is awarded to a third- or fourth-year medical student with financial need and demonstrated leadership qualities as well as high ethical and moral values, and the commitment that guided the couple throughout their lives. Ware served as chair of the MCV Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology from 1942 to 1967. His son, plastic surgeon J. Latane Ware, M.D., endowed the scholarship in honor of his parents.

Hudnall Ware’s other son, H. Hudnall Ware III, M.D., became an OB-GYN like his father and went on to deliver Ellis’ aunt two years after that snowy Christmas.

“Receiving the scholarship was a full-circle moment for our family,” Ellis said. “There was no way my grandmother could have known — at the same age I am now — that I would exist, much less end up going into the same practice of medicine as Dr. Ware. Student debt is something that most doctors deal with, especially in their early careers. I’ve been so lucky to have this head start, which will give me more flexibility in residency and my first job. It’s a blessing.”

Frances Ellis expressed her gratitude recently when she saw the news of Latane Ware’s passing in 2021 and made a gift to the scholarship fund.

“Laura has worked very hard in the classroom, on research projects and during her clinical rotations,” said Caitlin Martin, M.D., director of OB-GYN Addiction Services for VCU’s Institute for Drug and Alcohol Studies.

“She is very enthusiastic, and even though she is still in the early stages of training, she understands that what’s happening today in the practice of obstetrics and gynecology won’t be the same in four years or 10 years. She can see the bigger picture and appreciate that she will need to adapt as her field changes and as science matures. I love this about her, and have no doubt that she will achieve her goals.”

On Match Day, when fourth-year students learn their residency training destinations, Ellis followed in Ware's footsteps once again. She's headed for a career in OB-GYN and will begin residency training in July at University of Connecticut School of Medicine. Ultimately, Ellis wants to work in an underserved area.

“I grew up in a big, matriarchal, rural, southern family,” she said. “My granny is one of five sisters. Between her, my mother, all of my aunts, sisters and cousins, I learned that taking care of women is taking care of families. I am grateful to have the opportunity to do that myself. I feel a connection to the Ware family, not just because of the scholarship or my dad’s delivery, but because we were shaped by the same community, and it led both of us to the same place.”