Grey's Anatomy Universe Wiki

It's awful being a grownup. But the carousel never stops turning. You can't get off.
Ellis Grey

Ellis Grey was the mother of Meredith Grey and the ex-wife of Thatcher Grey. She was also the birth mother of Maggie Pierce. During her time, she was a world-famous surgeon who was twice honored with the Harper Avery Award. She was later diagnosed with Alzheimer's.


Early Life[]

Ellis was born on August 6, 1953. Her mother was the "quintessential housewife", everything had to be perfect from her pleats to her A-line skirt. Her father had numerous affairs with all of his secretaries, which her mother detested but never said a word. Ellis swore never to become someone's doormat as a result. At some point in her life, she met Thatcher Grey. They married, and welcomed Meredith into their lives in early 1978, aged 24 at the time.

Meredith's Birth[]

When she was pregnant with Meredith, she refused to acknowledge it at any point. When she went into labor, she came to Thatcher in awe, laughing and smiling, finally admitting that they were having a baby. On his deathbed, he said he'd never seen her so happy and carefree before. ("The Winner Takes It All")

First Seattle AIDS Patient[]

Starting in 1982, when he first came to the hospital, Ellis, along with Richard Webber, treated Phillip Nichols, who ultimately ended up being the first patient in Seattle to be diagnosed with GRID, now known as AIDS. They operated on him even without knowing how AIDS was transmitted. They later stood by his bedside as he died and later toasted his death at Emerald City Bar, where Ellis convinced Richard to toast with alcohol instead of soda. ("The Time Warp")

Affair with Richard[]

Meanwhile, Ellis had finished med school and started her surgical residency at Seattle Grace Hospital, where she was often looked down on because she was one of the few and first female surgeons. Due to her large professional drive and her wanting to prove herself, she worked long hours and didn't spend much time with her family.

Ellis is left alone after Richard chooses Adele.

She bonded with her fellow resident Richard, who was also being looked down on because of his skin color. They soon started off an affair and began planning a life together. In June 1983, the two of them made a deal to tell their spouses about their affair and leave them, as they didn't want to continue cheating. Right after making the deal, Richard overheard that Ellis was put on the shortlist for the Harper Avery Award for the Grey Method, being the first resident to ever make it onto that list. That night, Ellis told Thatcher, but Richard chose to be with his wife, Adele because he was hopelessly jealous of Ellis's professional success and didn't want to feel like that his entire life.

Ellis slit her wrists.

Suicide Attempt[]

Devastated over the fact that Richard left her, Ellis slit her wrists in front of Meredith on June 19, 1983. Ellis told Meredith not to be scared of the blood and forbade her to call 911. Eventually, Ellis passed out, and Meredith called 911. She was transported to the ER and her life was saved, thanks to Meredith. Eventually, Meredith learned that Ellis, being the fantastic surgeon that she was, would have known that the way she slit her wrists would not have killed her, making it clear to her that it was not a suicide attempt, but rather a cry for Richard's attention.

Pregnancy and Life in Boston[]

While being treated, Ellis was discovered to be pregnant with Richard's child, which is why she decided to move to Boston. She stopped drinking wine and wrote down what she ate in her journals, indicating Ellis did want her baby to be healthy. Ellis took her daughter with her and they hid in their apartment. Ellis cried a lot, but Meredith knew not to ask any questions. Eventually, Ellis's water broke and she gave birth to Maggie on November 22, 1983, placing her for adoption. She was sure she wanted to sign away all her rights to the baby, because she needed to start over after Richard left her.

Ellis chose Bill and Diane Pierce to raise Maggie. She described them as kind, loving, hard-working people. They offered to give Ellis occasional updates on Maggie's life, but Ellis declined. ("The Makings of You")

After Maggie was living with her parents, Ellis and Meredith didn't have to hide anymore, so they moved across town to a nice house. Meredith started first grade and Ellis started her fellowship at Mass Gen, continuing her career.

Ellis Grey Procedure[]

Sometime after her daughter turned eight, Ellis won her second Harper Avery Award, which was for the Ellis Grey Procedure. ("Old Scars, Future Hearts") The procedure was developed with her best friend, Marie Cerone, but Ellis omitted Marie's name from its publishing due to the fact that she was blacklisted from ever winning a Harper Avery Award. This ended the friendship between the two of them. ("Old Scars, Future Hearts")


After her diagnosis, Ellis wrote a letter to Maggie as she was forced to face her own mortality. In the letter, she described her decision not to see Maggie as one she was proud of. Her one regret was that Meredith and Maggie didn't meet. She also said she knew that Maggie would be better off with Bill and Diane. ("The Makings of You")

By the time Meredith started her internship, Ellis was living at the Roseridge Home for Extended Care. Her case was advanced, and she most often thought she was still completing her residency. When she talked to Meredith, she sometimes thought she was a friend of hers from college.

After her disease progressed to the point where she could no longer handle her own affairs, they had her sign everything over to Meredith. ("Shake Your Groove Thing")


Ellis was brought to the hospital with cramping pain and diarrhea. Because of her Alzheimer's, she was confused and aggressive. She believed that George was Thatcher and Burke was Richard. Scans confirmed diverticulitis, but also revealed a liver mass. They biopsied the mass, but it was found to be benign. ("Make Me Lose Control")

They removed the mass and three days later, she was stable and recovering well. She disappeared from her hospital bed and was found around the hospital wearing scrubs and thinking she was still a doctor. They got her to come back to her room, but she disappeared again, this time going to a scrub room to prepare for a surgery she believed she'd be doing. Because of her multiple escapes, she had to be put in restraints. ("Deny, Deny, Deny")

Once she had recovered, she was discharged back to Roseridge. ("Bring the Pain")

Alzheimer's Trial[]

After finding out that Ellis had Alzheimer's, Richard began to visit her at Roseridge. He then asked Derek to come check on Ellis and see if she was eligible for an Alzheimer's research trial. She was and Richard convinced Meredith to agree. ("Begin the Begin")

Richard's Visits[]

Richard started visiting Ellis after her Alzheimer's was revealed to him. They shared stories of their residency, a time she remembered well. Meredith saw them together and after thinking about it, told Richard he should keep visiting her as it made her happy. ("Break on Through")

Refusal to Eat[]

The nursing home called Meredith because Ellis had been refusing to eat. Ellis said she didn't have time because she was working. When Richard showed up with food for her, she immediately started eating it. Meredith later had to break the news to Ellis that Richard wouldn't be visiting her anymore because he'd decided to commit himself back to his marriage. ("Staring at the Sun")

While reliving the first time Richard left her, she had to be reminded that it had happened thirty years prior. ("Don't Stand So Close to Me")


One morning, Ellis woke up in her nursing home completely lucid. She remembered everything except the last five years and the fact that she had Alzheimer's. Ms. Henry thought it was best that Meredith tell her about the Alzheimer's. Ellis apologized to Meredith for the fight they'd had and tried to figure out why she was in a home. Meredith told her she had Alzheimer's and that she lived in a residential facility. Ellis started to cry and then collapsed and had to be rushed to the hospital. They ran tests to determine the cause of her arrhythmias. Because she was in the Alzheimer's research trial, she asked for a consult with the neurosurgeon who got her into the trial. When she met with Derek, she figured out that Meredith was seeing him. Ellis was diagnosed with a heart condition that could be treated with meds, but Burke decided to do surgery because Meredith said she's often not compliant with medication. She tried to refuse the surgery, but since Meredith was her medical proxy, it wasn't Ellis's decision to make. Meredith said she wouldn't let Ellis refuse the surgery because she said killing her mother wouldn't be another thing that happened to her. During her last lucid moments, she reminisced with Richard about the life they could have had together. Meredith came back and told Ellis that she still hoped they'd find a cure and the two of them would have another chance to get to know each other, but by then, she wasn't lucid anymore. ("Wishin' and Hopin'")


Ellis became agitated and aggressive, so she was given lorazepam to calm her down. Later that day, she coded and was unable to be resuscitated. ("Some Kind of Miracle")

Posthumous History[]

Meredith's Near-Death Experience[]

When Meredith drowned in Elliott Bay, she saw her mother in a sort of afterlife, saying she didn't belong there. She said that Meredith was anything but ordinary before telling her to run. ("Some Kind of Miracle")


She was later cremated, put into a beautiful urn, and for a time was "hanging out in the back of Meredith's closet." ("Scars and Souvenirs")

Because Meredith thought that Ellis' ashes were haunting her, she took them to work and washed them down a surgical sink at the hospital with Richard, who saw it as a fitting tribute for her final resting place to be so closely associated with the hospital which she dedicated her life to. ("Haunt You Every Day")

Day of the Dead[]

Ellis was among the spirits who visited Meredith on Day of the Dead. ("Flowers Grow Out of My Grave")

Meredith's Dream[]

Ellis appeared to Meredith in a dream, first giving constructive criticism to Maggie about her article and then telling Zola an idea for Meredith and having her write it down. ("Blood and Water")

Meredith's Next Dream[]

Ellis appeared to Meredith in another dream years later, asking Meredith what she was going to do next after surviving the unbelievable. ("Here Comes the Sun")

Taunting Meredith[]

Ellis appeared in another of Meredith's dreams, taunting her about her surgical skills. ("Out for Blood")

Alternate Universe[]

In the alternate universe, Ellis never developed Alzheimer's, Richard chose her instead of Adele, and they raised Meredith together. Ellis is also Chief of Surgery and Chief of Staff at Seattle Grace. ("If/Then")


She was extremely overbearing, intense, arrogant, driven, determined, and hardworking.



Richard Webber[]

Richard leaves Ellis for Adele.

During her residency, she had an affair with former SGH Chief of Surgery, Dr. Richard Webber, when they were both residents. As residents, the two doctors had a defining moment in both their careers and their relationship when they took care of one of the first patients diagnosed with G.R.I.D. (Gay-related immune deficiency, an early name for AIDS).

Late in their relationship, Ellis became pregnant by Richard. She gave the baby up for adoption at birth.

Ellis decided to slit her wrists in front of Meredith and forbade her to call an ambulance. When her mother passed out Meredith rang an ambulance and her mother lived. Years later, with the help of her psychiatrist, Meredith realized that her mother wasn't trying to commit suicide, she cut her wrists in the hopes that Richard would find out and take her back. However, Richard never heard about the incident and she was too stubborn to ask.

Thatcher Grey[]

She was married to Thatcher Grey, who left the family when Meredith was young, partly as a result of Ellis's affair. Ellis and Richard planned to leave their respective partners and get married but eventually, Richard chose Adele over Ellis, although he did still have feelings for her.


She describes her mother as the quintessential housewife. She made sure everything was perfect, but that didn't stop her father from sleeping with all his secretaries. ("The Makings of You")


Marie Cerone[]

Ellis and Marie were great friends for years until they had a falling out. ("Games People Play")

Meredith learned that Ellis and Marie had worked together on what won Ellis's second Harper Avery, the Ellis Grey Procedure, but Ellis had taken all the credit. Many years later, Marie wanted Meredith to publicly make it known that the work was not just Ellis's. ("Old Scars, Future Hearts")


Elizabeth Fallon[]

Liz Fallon was Ellis's scrub nurse for 18 years. When Liz was dying of cancer, Meredith went to see her. During the visit Liz made a comment about Ellis's perfect memory and Meredith couldn't stop laughing, so Liz asked what Ellis was diagnosed with. Shocked, Meredith ended up telling Liz about Ellis's Alzheimer's. Liz revealed that while she'd been Ellis's scrub nurse, she never met Meredith. When Meredith mentioned meeting Liz, Ellis remembered her fondly, that she was a great scrub nurse, asking how she was. ("No Man's Land")

It is unclear when those 18 years occurred as Liz Fallon worked at Seattle Grace and Ellis left Seattle after her residency and later worked at Mass Gen, The Mayo Clinic and for the U.N. It has been strongly implied that she never returned to work at Seattle Grace.


Ellis tells Meredith to be extraordinary.

Ellis completed her surgical residency at Seattle Grace Hospital. She was the only female in her residency class. During her residency, along with Richard Webber, she treated and identified the hospital's first GRID (now known as AIDS) patient. During her final year of residency, Ellis created an audacious laparoscopic technique to treat gallbladders and subsequently named it, audaciously, "The Grey Method" when it was published in The American Journal of Medicine. She listed herself as the first author, and it put her on the short list for her first Harper Avery nomination. The nomination itself was groundbreaking as no resident ever had been nominated.

She later developed the "Ellis Grey Procedure," where she worked very closely with her colleague and then-best friend, Marie Cerone. According to Marie, she and Ellis developed the procedure together. It was a laparoscopic biliary reconstruction. The procedure was nominated for and later won a Harper Avery Award, Ellis' second and final win. Marie, however, did not receive any credit for her contribution because when the time came to publishing the paper, Ellis left Marie's name off of it and listed only herself. Ellis did this due to the fact that Marie was blacklisted from ever being eligible to win a Harper Avery. ("Old Scars, Future Hearts")

Years later, and following Harper Avery's own death, Ellis' daughter, Meredith announced during a public presentation of her own research that the procedure, which she referred to as the "Grey Method," would now be known as the "Grey-Cerone Method" to acknowledge Marie's contributions. ("Fight For Your Mind")

After her divorce with Thatcher and break-up with Richard, Ellis moved with Meredith to pursue a fellowship position at Massachusetts General Hospital. She then won the Harper Avery and dedicated the win to all the female surgeons in the world that would come after her. Ellis continued to be a pioneer in surgery as her distinguished career included tenures at Boston General, the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and for the U.N., and won another Harper Avery award.

She has also documented a significant aspect of her surgical training, in the form of videos, which were watched while the group were still interns, and in her journals, writing about her relationship with Richard and her surgical training, referencing staff at Seattle Grace, such as Margaret Campbell, and which Cristina greatly enjoys, for both medicine and romance. According to her journals, the decision of whether or not Ellis would get the first solo surgery was the greatest and most terrifying moment in her life.

Ellis wrote at least one book, as Richard supposed she took time off to write another one. ("The First Cut Is the Deepest")

Notes and Trivia[]

  • She was allergic to penicillin.[2]
  • Ellis said that carousels gave her the creeps.[3]
  • Her patient ID at Seattle Grace Hospital was 188032-11.[4]
  • In her Alzheimer's state, she believed that George was Thatcher[5], that Burke was Richard and that Meredith was a close friend from college.
  • Richard had mentioned that had she not moved to Boston, Ellis would have been chief of surgery at Seattle Grace Hospital. In an alternative universe episode, it explores the possibility as she was both chief of staff and chief of surgery at Seattle Grace Hospital.
  • As Meredith (born 1978), was 5 in June 1983, when Richard chose to stay with Adele, Ellis (born August 1953) would have been 24 when she gave birth to her daughter.
  • According to Richard in the Season 10 episode I'm Winning, she won her first Harper Avery Award in 1988, when she was a fellow. This is inconsistent with information provided in the following season.
    • Ellis started her fellowship in Mass Gen after placing Maggie Pierce for adoption in 1983. At the time, Meredith just started first grade. It is possible this was a second fellowship, however.
    • It is heavily implied Richard and Ellis did not speak after he decided to stay with Adele, though it is possible he reunited with her when she won.
      • It is also possible Richard misremembered, and this was the second Harper Avery Award win, as the Grey Method was established in 1983.
      • In Only Mama Knows she is shown being told that she has been put on the short list of nominees for the Harper Avery Award, not being called as a nominee in the way Meredith describes in I'm Winning. Potentially, she was short—listed in 1983, there was a banquet of sorts—perhaps continuing the Chief's attempt to woo her)—attended by Thatcher and Richard, but her actual first nomination and win occurred in 1988.
  • She was nominated for a Harper Avery Award five times in total.
  • Ellis was with Richard when she was told she was short-listed for her first Harper Avery Award.
  • Her granddaughter, Ellis, was named after her.
  • She was afraid of heights.[6]
  • Her favorite OR was OR 2.[7]
  • After winning the Harper Avery Award, Meredith imagined she saw her mother clapping for her.[8]
  • The character was originally named Helen before the writers chose Ellis. This name was later given to Alex's mother.
  • When she didn't like things, she called them "Uncivilized."[9]
  • According to Meredith, she was a terrible driver.[10]
  • She originally wanted to go into cardio, but talked herself out of it.[11]



Episode Stills[]

Notable Episodes[]

These episodes are Ellis-centric or otherwise very informative about her life.

Memorable Quotes[]

Ellis: Anyone can fall in love and be blindly happy, but not everyone can pick up a scalpel and save a life.[12]

Ellis: You're waiting for inspiration, are you kidding me? I have a disease for which there is no cure, I think that would be inspiration enough![13]

Ellis (to Meredith): You grew up. It's a shame. It's awful being a grown-up. But the carousel never stops turning. You can’t get off.[14]

Ellis (to Meredith): You are anything but ordinary, Meredith.[15]

Ellis: He's gone back to Adele. Of course he has. He's afraid. Afraid to be happy. And I'm all alone. Now I have to raise my daughter alone. How am I expected to do that?[16]

See Also[]