Robert W. 'Bob' Russell, active in theater, dies at 66

Businessman was also adjunct professor at Howard Community College

August 30, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Robert W. "Bob" Russell, a businessman and community activist who was a noted figure in community theater circles, died Aug. 19 of esophageal cancer at his Columbia home.

He was 66.

Mr. Russell, the son of a Ford Motor Co. assembly line worker and a homemaker, was born in Jersey City, N.J., and raised in Maywood, N.J.

After graduating from Bogota High School in 1961, he earned a bachelor's degree in 1965. He also received a master's degree in education from the University of Southern California.

He served in the Navy as a communications specialist from 1966 to 1972 and attained the rank of petty officer.

Settling in Columbia in 1975 with his wife and oldest son, Mr. Russell "got involved in the community right away, serving as president of the Longfellow Elementary School PTA, a member of the Harper's Choice Village Board, and representing the village on the Columbia Council," said his wife of 42 years, the former Barbara Weigner.

After working at Howard Community College and Reston Publishing Co., Mr. Russell established R&R Associates Inc. in 1982. The firm, a Columbia desktop publishing company, also included a newsletter that was sold to financial professionals throughout the nation.

In addition to his own work, Mr. Russell returned to Howard Community College, where he was an adjunct faculty member and taught public speaking and other courses, including "Humanities Through the Arts," "Art on the Edge," and "The Psychology of Happiness: A Humanities Approach."

Through the years, Mr. Russell expanded his community activism.

He was a past president of the Association of Community Services of Howard County and was the recipient of its Audrey Robbins award for volunteer service.

He had been president and a member of the board of the Family Life Center.

"Bob had a heart of gold and was one of a kind. He was so committed to the community. He had a sense of justice and was always working, I think, to do more, to give more to people who didn't have access to services," said Jane Walker, a longtime friend and community activist who is executive director of the Maryland Coalition of Families.

"I have known Bob for 30 years when he hired me to work as director at the Family Life Center," Ms. Walker said. "He had tremendous leadership, knew how to get people on board and had a wonderful sense of humor. That was a great hallmark of his."

His popularity resulted in Mr. Russell's being asked to emcee numerous events and fundraising roasts for nonprofits.

Other community events to which he volunteered his expertise and enthusiasm included the annual Longfellow Friends of the Traditional Fourth of July Parade and Softball Game, Howard County Arts Council's Celebration of the Arts, Columbia Festival of the Arts and Columbia Neighborhood Swim League.

Mr. Russell was an often-in-demand Benjamin Franklin impersonator and also appeared as the "Bagelologist" in a series of TV commercials for a local bagel shop.

Since high school, Mr. Russell had maintained an interest in the theater as an actor and director.

From 2000 to 2005, he had been a co-owner of the Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre, and had been an active member of the Baltimore Theatre Alliance, Baltimore Playwright's Festival, Columbia Community Players and Silhouette Stage.

"He was a wonderful man, so let's start right there," said Barry Feinstein, a longtime friend and a director at the Fells Point Corner Theatre who had worked with Mr. Russell at Audrey Herman.

"He loved directing and had a great common touch when he was on stage," he said. "He loved life and touched many artists. He made them better. Bob was a very warm man, and I learned a great deal from him. He could do it all on stage."

Jonathan E. Claiborne, a Baltimore attorney by day and an actor by night, is another longtime friend and stage colleague.

"We have lost a special person. You always hate losing a friend who added so much to the city," Mr. Claiborne said.

The two friends owned the Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre for five years after the celebrated community theater leader's death in 1999.

"We called it our 'Loss Corporation,'" said Mr. Claiborne. "Bob directed me in five different plays and was one of the big reasons I stayed involved with the theater. He was such a positive person to be around and his quirky sense of humor was wonderful," he said.

"I am reminded what he said so often during rehearsals. 'Have I said thank you recently?' I say the same to Bob. Thank you for all you did to make my life fuller and enjoyable," Mr. Claiborne said.

A celebration honoring Mr. Russell's life will be held at 1 p.m. Sept. 11 in the Smith Theatre at Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Russell is survived by three sons, Robert J. Russell of San Jose, Calif., Matthew D. Russell of Savannah, Ga., and Daniel C. Russell of Windsor Mill; and three grandchildren.

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