RALEIGH (WTVD) --Rodney Ellis, the former president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, died Saturday morning, the association announced.
In a post on Facebook, the NCAE said they are deeply saddened by his passing.
"He committed his life to his family and to making public schools better for every child. We will miss his tremendous leadership at NCAE and his tenacious commitment to public education.," said Mark Jewell, NCAE President, in the statement.
Jewell said he was stunned by the passing of his longtime friend. He said they had been close for 20 years.
Jewell said Ellis' family noticed he had difficulty breathing and began convulsing. Emergency workers couldn't save him. He died at the hospital, Jewell told ABC11.
"He cared so deeply for his family and his five children and loved his wife more than anything," he said.
Ellis served 8 years in leadership at the NCAE -- first as vice president and then president.
Educators say he aggressively lobbied state lawmakers on behalf of teacher and students; and was a fierce champion for social issues and civil rights.
"He made the NCAE and our organization the leading advocate for public schools in North Carolina," Jewell said. "His goal was to return our organization back to one that was advocating for the needs of our students. The resources that they need. For their parents and for their communities."
Ellis' family asked for time while they grieve and comfort each other. They also asked for prayers.
Gov. Pat McCrory issued a statement on his passing:
"Rodney Ellis was a dedicated advocate with a passion for public education. His devotion to North Carolina's students was a labor of love. Ann and I offer our prayers for his family at this difficult time."
No word yet on funeral arrangements.