Edward A. Russell Jr., 71, longtime employee of WBAL radio and TV

February 18, 2005|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Edward A. Russell Jr., a Television Hill stalwart whose ready smile cheered WBAL colleagues for more than half a century, died of cancer Tuesday at Joseph Richey Hospice -- little more than two weeks after his retirement as reproduction manager for the radio and TV stations. The Lochearn resident was 71.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Rutland Avenue, he was a 1951 graduate of Dunbar High School and attended Loyola College.

Mr. Russell was hired in 1952 as a $35-a-week mail clerk at WBAL, when its studios were at Charles and 26th streets. He became the first African-American to work in a supervisory capacity at a Baltimore television station, according to WBAL officials.

His job included producing promotional material, first on a small printing press and later with a computer, as well as news releases, program logs and photos of on-air and administrative personnel -- all of which he kept in a chest in his office and became an unofficial history of the station.

"Russell's real role is as the station's rock of continuity, unofficial historian, and jack of all trades," said a 2002 City Paper profile. "He has sat in on executive meetings, run the duckpin lanes for long-gone Bowling for Dollars, operated a camera during a strike, taken publicity pictures, and called in returns from the field on election night."

His 53-year tenure at WBAL gave him a unique historical perspective on the growth of television from a handful of local stations to the diversity of cable and satellite.

"I wasn't an actual part of history," he said in the City Paper interview. "I guess I was a witness to it."

"Ed was perhaps our station's best ambassador, and he was that for more than half a century. He was also a living reminder of our history," said Bill Fine, president of WBAL. "He was one of a kind and truly touched every single person here."

Six-day workweeks were common for Mr. Russell.

"He had a good work ethic. Anything we needed, he'd put it on his press and get it done. And he never complained about the stress of deadlines," Mr. Fine said.

Mr. Russell's easygoing demeanor pervaded WBAL's Television Hill studio and earned him many friends.

"He was the spirit of WBAL, and I didn't know anyone who didn't love him. I've known him since he was 17 years old, and he never lost that enthusiasm or spirit," said retired WBAL-TV sports anchor Vince Bagli. "Everybody always stopped by his office each day to see what was going on."

"It was his constant positiveness, laughter and smile that perked everyone up," said Ed Kiernan, vice president and general manager of WBAL-AM and WIYY-FM, who had been a close friend for the past 14 years. "There's a sadness and void here. We miss him dearly."

Television news anchor Rod Daniels added: "Ed Russell was one of the kindest and most caring individuals I've ever met in my life. I think he was placed on Earth to show us how to enjoy life and work."

Mr. Russell had a weakness for office cakes, parties, jokes and inline skating with his grandsons, which he continued to enjoy until he was 70.

"He never missed out on a cake and had a genuine love of good food and parties. He had an uncanny ability at finding food or cakes in the building," Mr. Fine said.

Mr. Russell also enjoyed reading and photography, and had been a multigallon Red Cross blood donor, family members said.

He was a communicant of New All Saints Roman Catholic Church, at Liberty Heights and Eldorado avenues, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at noon tomorrow.

Survivors include his wife of 50 years, the former Delores B. Hill; two sons, Edward A. Russell III of Baltimore and Bryan A. Russell of Manassas, Va.; two grandsons; and a great-grandson.

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