Thank-you Tom Russell

December 22, 2011 at 10:46 am 3 comments

I believe that each of us in this life is granted a few special messengers outside of our biological family, who cross our path to teach us something important, to provide vital guidance if we’re paying attention.

In the early 80s, I was in college and, thank heaven, paying attention in my Intro to Journalism class.

I had every intention of being a schoolteacher when I grew up. But, in my Sophomore year of college, I took a Journalism class “just for fun” and wandered into Professor Tom Russell’s classroom with a new notebook, a couple of pens, and nary a clue.

He was a retired newspaper reporter and an Air Force veteran who served in World War II. He dressed a bit like Mr. Rogers. He commanded, never demanded, respect. He did not tolerate laziness, bad grammar, or cliche. Sharp witted. Friendly. Un-sugar-coated. Brilliant. He was tough – but tough in a good way, in a way that challenges and inspires.

I can recall, with vivid clarity, The Moment—as I walked out of Biddle Hall after one of his classes—when I made the decision to be a writer, to do what I loved instead of what was safe and expected. It was one of the first big things I fought for, one of the only decisions I’ve been 100% sure of, one of the few things I got right in my life.

I truly don’t know if I would have discovered my place in the world or found the courage to pursue it if not for Tom Russell.

Now, I may not have attained exactly what I dreamed of that day, but I use the things he taught me every single day of my life.

We’ve exchanged cards and catch-up letters for more than 25 years at Christmastime. His hand-writing on an envelope is one of my Favorite Things. I sent off my card and letter to him last week, with a promise to print out and send a couple of blog posts in a separate envelope. This morning, at the office, I used the internet (instead of my address book at home) to check his address to get those into the mail. As I scanned the white pages’ search results, I saw one with a notation:  “Passed in 2011.” Oh no, no, no. But, yeah. I found the online obituary next.

He left this earth in May, so this paper is late. He’ll deduct points for that. And he’ll roll his eyes at this “armchair fluff.” But I owe him a good-bye. And a stronger word choice than Thank-you. And a novel.

Fare thee well, Mr. Russell.

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Entry filed under: Life Preservers.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. WritingbyEar  |  December 22, 2011 at 11:12 am

    Aw, sorry you lost your friend and mentor, B. And thank you for the reference to walking out of Biddle Hall — I’m probably one of the few of your readers who shares that memory…though none of my walks were as momentous.(P.S. You absolutely made the right choice!)


    • 2. boatdrinkbaby  |  December 23, 2011 at 2:57 am

      Thank-you, Chris. Did you have him for class, too? Great, great guy and a one-of-a-kind teacher.


  • 3. Ruth  |  January 9, 2012 at 4:39 am

    I believe that you have gotten far more than one thing right in this life!



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