The executive director of counseling and psychological services at the University of Pennsylvania jumped to his death Monday morning from the 17th floor of a Center City Philadelphia building, officials said.
Gregory Eells, 52, came to Penn six months ago to lead the department that counsels students with mental health problems. He had come from Cornell University, where he had worked for more than a decade and was an expert on resilience.
His death occurred about 6:40 a.m. along the 100 block of South Broad Street, where Eells had been living. It was ruled a suicide by the medical examiner’s office, said James Garrow, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.
Eells’ mother, Jeanette Eells-Rich, said he had been down in recent months, saying the job was harder than he anticipated and had kept him from his wife and three children, who were still living in Ithaca, N.Y.
“I said, ‘Well, quit.’ His wife said the same thing,” Eells-Rich, 78, said in a phone interview from Salem, Ill., where she raised Eells and his younger brother. "We are confused. He was the most smiling, upbeat person I have met in my life.”
Penn declined to discuss the circumstances around Eells’ death.
In a message to students Monday, the university said only that Eells died suddenly.
“We extend our condolences to Dr. Eells’ family,” wrote Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum, vice provost for university life, and Benoit Dube, chief wellness officer.
Penn in recent years has been rocked by a number of high profile student suicides, including the death of Madison Holleran, who jumped from a Center City parking garage in Philadelphia in 2014. There have been at least 14 student deaths by suicide since 2013. The parents of Olivia Kong, who killed herself in 2016, have sued Penn, alleging the university failed to help their daughter.
Eells took over as executive director of Penn’s counseling center in late March. He replaced Meeta Kumar, who had been leading the department following the departure of Bill Alexander.
“I have dedicated over 15 years of my professional career to providing mental health care to thousands of Cornell students through my work in CAPS,” Eells told Cornell’s student newspaper.
He had previously worked at the University of Southern Mississippi.
Eells has held a number of national posts, including president of the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors. He was elected to that position in 2007 and served for two years. He also had been chair of the Mental Health Section of the American College Health Association in 2014.
“Greg Eells will be a vital collaborator in our campuswide initiatives to sustain wellness across the University,” Penn Provost Wendell Pritchett said when Eells was hired. “In particular, his vision and experience will be invaluable as we continue to improve and integrate our services dedicated to student wellness."
Police said no note was left.
If you or someone you know is thinking of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text TALK to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.