Russell was born in the middle of the Anthracite coal region of Northeastern
Pennsylvania, a place called Ashley. He was the eldest of three boys of Tom and Margaret
Williams. Tom had worked in the mines since he was nine years old. They were church
going folks, and walked to church, a distance of 4 miles one way, each Sunday. Russell’s
grandmother lived along the way and they would visit on the way back from church.
When he was about 3, he wandered off along the “church route” and it took some time to
find him. He simply said he knew the way!
They lived near the mines and the railroad servicing the mine was nearby. At age 5, he
enjoyed climbing up the bank to the railroad and play among the sided railroad cars.
Russell recalled that he had an uncle in WWI and he was a big hero to Russell. Russell
would play a Sousa March and parade around the table. Maybe this was the beginning of
his marching band career! Russell was always fascinated with National holidays, and
would get up 6:00 AM to put flags out on Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Armistice Day.
He would follow the marching band through the streets of Ashley and on to the cemetery
for the ceremonies.
At age 10 he was able to start piano lessons, but he had to earn the money for the
lessons by doing household chores, chopping wood for a neighbor, and washing the Post
Office windows. He was also able to save enough to buy his first Boy Scout uniform.
Starting into high school, it was necessary to select a course of study – Business,
General or College. His mother told him to choose General because there was no money
for College. He signed up for College anyhow. There wasn’t any room in his bedroom to
study, so he did his homework at the dining room table. At age 15, Russell began clarinet
lessons. He began playing in a town band right away and, because his high school didn’t
have a band, he traveled to the neighboring high school to join their band. He went on to
buy his own saxophone and became quite an accomplished instrumentalist. He began
participating in local parades with VFW bands, and played at football games with the high
school band, even though his own high school team was on the other side!
During his last two years of high school he delivered special delivery mail and packages
for the post office. This gave him a little savings and spending money. He had finished
high school and was planning to go the college, but couldn’t afford it. His father was now
a mine foreman, but the first opening that came open was given to another man.
However, Russell persisted and the next opening was given to him. Russell spent almost
two years working in the mines and playing with an orchestra on weekends to get
together enough money to go to college. Since he was earning money, his mother said
she would charge him for lunches but not room rent, because he was saving for college.
He had been accepted at Temple University and was repairing a mine cave-in the day
before he left for Philadelphia!
Following his freshman year, his father refused to let him work in the mines for the
summer, but Russell was able to get a “gig” in the Adirondacks until Labor Day. At
Temple, he played in the marching band and organized the Baptist Temple University
Sunday School Class. When he finished his junior year, he decided to go to summer
school with his roommate Bob. However, when Bob’s father found out he had a
girlfriend, Bob was denied attendance at summer school. Russell agreed to look after the
girlfriend during the summer until Bob returned in the fall. Russell must have done a
very good job, because he ended up marrying Bob’s girlfriend, Florence.
Russell had graduated and was teaching music at a high school, but Florence was still at
Temple. Now, the story of the marriage is controversial. Conventional wisdom says they
eloped midway through Florence’s senior year. However, Florence says NO, they were
married in a church. We do know that her mother was none to happy about things, but
Russell promised that Florence would finish her degree even if she lost her scholarship.
After all, Russell must have amassed quite a tidy sum after teaching for a year and a half
at 1941 school teacher’s salary. Probably had saved up $300 - $400! Well, Florence made
her gown, and they were married.
Over the next several years, a family was begun with the arrival of Rosalind and little
Russell. Meanwhile, Russell took on higher and higher level high school music teaching
and band positions, until he reached Norfolk, VA. There, over a 12 year period, he
produced State Champion bands and individual State Champion instrumentalists. In fact,
Russell was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 2005. Unfortunately, his hearing
began to fail and that is tragic for a musician. Undaunted, Russell went back to school
and earned a Masters Degree in Guidance and Counseling. He moved into that field and
finished a thirty-four year education career in Newark, DE.
In retirement, Russell and Florence continued a very active life. Grace United Methodist
Church played a big role, where Russell faithfully sang in the choir until his death. A
hideaway in Delaware, a time-share in Salt Lake city, and their dream home in Nokomis
kept them busy crisscrossing the country. Added to that was Thanksgiving cruises with
the whole family, grandkids too!
Probably the distinctive feature of Russell’s retirement centered around his Welsh
ancestry. His many trips to Utah doing genealogy research led to immediate involvement
in the fledgling Gulf Coast St David’s Welsh Society. No doubt, Russell has been the
leading light for that organization as president and trustee until recently when his health
began to fail. If he saw a Welsh Dragon bumper sticker on your car, he would follow you
for miles to meet you and invite you to a meeting. In addition to membership in a similar
organization in St Petersburg, Russell went global. He and Florence travelled regularly to
the annual National Gymanfa Ganu each Labor Day weekend either somewhere in the U.S.
or Canada. He would become a trustee of the organization. Yours truly is probably
responsible for Russell being selected to be President of the National Welsh American
Foundation, a philanthropic, scholarship-awarding organization spanning the U.S. and
Wales. This, and attendance at many National Eisteddfods in Wales, led to the
establishment of many friendships in Wales. Many of these friends have visited
Nokomis. Russell’s long-standing accomplishment for the Welsh-American community is
his untiring efforts with regard to reporting and corresponding with the Welsh American
newspapers, NINNAU and Y DRYCH. In almost every issue Russell would report – with
photos – on happenings locally, nationally, or internationally. Articles would appear
occasionally in YR ENFYS, a periodical published in Wales. Russell was honored by many
of these organizations for his outstanding leadership and devotion to the Welsh-
Throughout his busy professional life and his equally busy retirement life, he never
failed to have proper priorities; They were: First and foremost - Florence, truly the love
of his life; Ros and Jim; Russ and Linda; grandchildren - Doug, Dean, Rebecca, Stephen ,
and great-granddaughter, little Leah.
This is a man who for all of his 93 years was a true gentleman – a gentle man, ever ready
to pitch-in and help; always with a smile; always good-natured and genuine in his care for
George Bernard Shaw said:
“A gentleman is one who puts more into the world than he takes out. “ And that was
A fellow Welsh-American, Frank Lloyd Wright said:
“A gentleman? … Individual conscience will rule his social acts. By love of quality as
against quantity he will choose his way through life. He will learn to know the difference
between the curious and the beautiful. Truth will be a divinity to him. As his gentlehood
cannot be conferred, so it may not be inherited. This gentleman of democracy will be
found in any honest occupation at any level of fortune, loving beauty, doing his best and
That’s our Russell. God bless you, Russell. Diolch yn fawr. Thank you very much, my friend!
by Jack Pritchard
|GULF COAST WELSH SOCIETY
CRIMOND THE 23RD PSALM
|Performed by Rhos Orpheus Male Voice Choir
Oak Ridge Cemetery
January 17, 1916 to August 4, 2009
member, past president, international correspondent, mentor and friend.