There are lot of ways to say thank you. Give a card. Give a hug. Give a box of chocolates. Send flowers. Send a text. Shake a hand. Drop $20 into the Suggestion Box. If you're a NBA player, buy the housekeeper a Porsche.

What the city of Santa Rosa did for Bill Ellis, however, beats them all.

And it didn't cost them a thing. The best thank yous are the ones that are priceless.

This is how the city thanked Bill Ellis.

Stand at this spot on Third Street, Bill, on Sunday. Take this starter pistol and when we tell you, fire it into the air. Someone may ask you a few questions beforehand.

"I don't know what I'll say," said Ellis, who has been the technical chair on the city of Santa Rosa's local organizing committee since the Amgen Tour of California first blew into town in 2006.

Of course, Bill wouldn't know what to say but that's how Bill is. The next time Ellis calls attention to himself will be the first time he calls attention to himself. And it will one of life's great ironies that Ellis — who you won't see dressed up as a cigar-smoking Spiderman at a Mardi Gras — will be on every Sunday telecast that shows the beginning of the 2012 Tour of California.

"Every day feels like a Sunday to me," Ellis said Thursday.

That would be a good place to start. In November, 2010 Ellis was doing one of the most common, ordinary things in daily life. He blew his nose. That's it. That's all. That's how it started. He blew his nose. And it didn't feel right.

A doctor's exam and a biopsy later, Ellis learned he had a rare form of cancer, an adenoid cystic carcinoma. It had been growing for 6-8 years. It was nearing a number of nerves, including his optic. Given the location of the tumor, surgery was going to be tricky. Only two places in the world were capable of performing such a delicate surgery, Japan and Germany.

"I took the Cadillac option," said Ellis, who flew with his wife Evelyn to Heidelberg. This Cadillac cost $65,000. Ellis stayed there for two and half months. He wears a prosthesis as a result of the surgery, one that he inserts in his mouth as if they were false teeth except in this case the device covers his upper right jaw and contains seven teeth.

"It allows me to speak," Ellis said. "I just had my third MRI and everything was fine."

It has been said more than once that you find out who your friends are in times of illness.

This is the kind of friends Bill Ellis has: People took some of their vacation time to work Ellis' hours while he was recuperating. The 2012 Amgen Tour, after all, was just around the corner. So people took his workload without complaint. This was Bill Ellis they were working for, working with. He represents, to so many people, the best of human nature.

"By the way Bill acts, he reminds you to be nice," said Raissa de la Rosa-Hamilton, the city's economic developmental specialist who helps shepherd the Tour of California whenever he has come through Santa Rosa.

Nice, hardly something you hear anymore in sports without some sarcasm attached to it. Nice guys finish last. Nice guys are syrupy, bland and formless. Nice guys don't get respect and affection. Nice guys get in the way.

Well, Bill Ellis shoots those stereotypes out of the sky with his starter pistol.

"He doesn't call himself out," said de la Rosa-Hamilton about Ellis' refusal to attract attention. The public perception is that government is full of high flying egos that need constant attention and nurturing with little connection or real interest in the world around them.

"For some reason," de la Rosa-Hamilton said, "we who work in government are not always seen as being human."

Government employees are not only human. Some of them are even nice. A nice government employee? Whoa, isn't that a contradiction in terms?

No, not if you meet Bill Ellis.

For more North Bay sports go to Bob Padecky's blog at padecky.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.