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In memoriam: Kenneth Russell

In memoriam: Kenneth Russell

[Ken Russell]

Dad was always looking for ways to buy more time. His most ingenious tactic took place last year when, at the age of 90, he renewed his passport for 10 more years.

Sadly, my father, Professor Emeritus K.E. (Ken) Russell (Chemistry) never got to use his new passport; he died on April 10, 2016. At the celebration of his rich, exceptional life on April 16, a standing-room-only crowd heard similar tales of his tenacity, kindness, generosity and dry British sense of humour.

When Dad arrived in Canada in 1954 as a lecturer, Queen’s was small; just 2,300 students, including about 100 graduate students. At $4,000, his annual salary was not that big either. His office and lab were in Gordon Hall, a building virtually unchanged since it was built in 1910. He did however, enjoy a perk that no one at Queen’s has today: a parking spot – with his name on it – right outside his office.

{Judy and Ken Russell]
Ken with his daughter Judy Russell at her graduation in 1981 from Queen's Faculty of Applied Science

For the next 60-plus years, Dad contributed to the life of Queen’s in many different ways. When Queen’s enrolment hit 10,000 in the late 1960s, Dad and his colleagues made it a point to get to know their students. Each September, Dad would bring home sheets of student mug shots and memorize names. First-year students were floored when he’d call on them by name one week into classes. One year, he brought them all home to dinner in groups of six, a weekly culinary event that my mother Esther executed with great aplomb.

As well as teaching Arts and Science and Engineering undergraduates, supervising graduate students and research in polymer chemistry, Dad served as Arts and Science Faculty Board chair, acting department head, senator, and senate committee member, chair of the University Concerts Committee, and department chair of Graduate Studies, to list a few.

It is, however, his lesser-known roles and activities that give a broader dimension to his contributions inside and outside the classroom and the lab, and the lives that he touched.

Although “officially” retired in 1989, Dad continued pursue research in polymer chemistry, publishing his last paper in 2002. He was a familiar face on campus and would walk the six blocks there and back most days, well into his 80s.

[Ken Russell and Celia Russell]
Ken was volunteer proof reader for the Queen's Gazette. Pictured here with daughter and former Gazette editor, Celia Russell. (Photo by Ken Cuthbertson)

In the late 1990s, Dad agreed to take on the role of volunteer proof reader of the Gazette, and for more than a decade, I had the privilege of working alongside my father. His vast institutional knowledge proved invaluable time and again. On one occasion, he pointed to his proof of the Calendar page and remarked, “I don’t think this professor will be delivering this lecture. He died two months ago.” Good save, Dad. When I left in 2009 for another position at the university, his loyalty to the staff and the new editor was such that he stayed on for several months after the transition.

He was a generous and frequent donor to many causes at Queen’s. He cared deeply about the staff who keep the university running and was among those who created the William Patrick (Paddy) Doolan Award recognizing the long-time technician and given to the graduate student who contributes the most to demonstrating in the first-year chemistry labs.

In 2014, to recognize Dad’s many contributions, the Department of Chemistry created a lectureship in his name, which allows the department to bring in distinguished researchers in polymer chemistry, and related areas of material science, as visiting speakers. The inaugural lecture took place five days after his death. Dad was so looking forward to being there.

Those wishing to donate to the lectureship can mail a cheque payable to Queen’s University with “In memory of Professor K.E. Russell" in the memo line to: Queen’s University, Attn: Emily Mackwood, Office of Advancement, Kingston, ON, Canada, K7L 3N6. To give online, go to the Kenneth Russell Endowed Lecture Series on the Queen's Online Giving site. Please check that you wish to notify our family so that we can thank you personally.

[cover of Alumni Review 2016 Issue 3]